On Innovation and Collaboration

I recently sat down to read an essay by my friend and colleague, Ginny McGinn, co-director of the Center for Whole Communities. Her writing on leadership and how to create new pathways to collaboration (in the Winter 2010-11 Whole Thinking Journal) touched on something which really resonated with me in thinking about what makes Yestermorrow such a special place.

"Recently on the Canadian Broadcasting Company radio show Spark (an ongoing conver­sation about technology and culture), researcher and author Steven Johnson was talking about his new book Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation. He spoke about the concept, perhaps the myth, of the “eureka moment,” the instant when an individual is struck by an idea, a lightning bolt of brilliance that will change the world.

What Johnson’s research shows is that such moments are rare. More often what happens is that over time an individ­ual develops an idea in collaboration with one or more other people whom he or she has regular contact with and input from. Rarely does innovation happen in isolation. Just as plants and animals adapt to be better fitted to their environment as a result of what they come into contact with so, too, do human beings. Our best thinking happens when we bump up against other people and their ideas. Johnson’s research reveals that when we humans have relationships with individuals who have different skills and come from different fields, our capac­ity to innovate increases. Specifically he found that inventors typically had social connections to people with very different backgrounds. What fed their new thinking was listening and learning from people with different ideas."

For me, this is a huge part of what Yestermorrow is all about. Bringing people together to share their ideas, their experiences, and their visions for the future. The result is never something that can be predicted, but inevitably the “eureka” moments come when students are working together to help each other figure out a solution neither would have come to on their own. Yestermorrow is a place where people who want to make the world a better place and who are hungry to learn can bump elbows, chat over dinner, and spark innovations that transcend the subject matter of any one class or topic. Good food for thought (thanks Ginny!).

-Kate Stephenson