As I’ve written on several occasions (here, here, and here), mashup thinking is often the driver behind breakthrough innovations. Mashup thinking is not the same as thinking out of the box. Rather, it’s thinking out of several different boxes.
Wheeled luggage is a good example. There’s a box called wheels. There’s another box called luggage. You take an idea from each box, mash them up, and create a third box called wheeled luggage. Now we can select an idea from yet another box called power supplies. We mash that up with wheeled luggage and we get yet another new product: self-propelled wheeled luggage.
Note that the originating ideas (wheels, luggage, power supplies) are not breakthrough ideas in and of themselves. Indeed, they’re rather mundane. It’s only by mashing them up that they become, new, different, and valuable.
How do you promote mashup thinking in your organization? The simple answer is collisions. You need to get people, ideas, and concepts to collide. Think of it as an atom smasher. When two atoms collide at high speed, they produce a very interesting array of new particles. You want to produce similarly productive collisions in your organization.
Here are some tips on creating productive collisions:
Diversity – let’s say you get two engineers to collide. That’s interesting but not usually productive. After all, they’re in the same box. The trick is to get two people from different boxes to collide. That requires diversity. This includes ethnic and geographic diversity. Some very innovative companies have found that putting together people from, say, Africa, Europe, South America, Japan and the USA can produce very interesting results. Age diversity – old people mixed with young – can also create productive collisions. For me educational diversity is equally important. Indeed, I tell my clients that one of the reasons they should hire me is because I don’t have an MBA. I think differently.
Seating arrangements – why do so many companies put engineers in one area, marketers in another, finance people in another and human resources folks in yet another? That practically guarantees that all collisions will be same-box collisions. Randomize your seating chart. You’ll be surprised.
Architecture – the way you organize your space can either promote or prevent collisions. Fewer bathrooms, fewer coffee stations, and fewer lunchrooms all promote collisions. Rather than providing lots of places to congregate, offer fewer. You’ll get larger congregations.
Policies – earlier this year, Marissa Mayer of Yahoo! announced that employees would need to come to the office. No more working from home all the time. The policy got a lot of pushback. But I’m sure that it also produced a lot more collisions.