Why you should encourage cross-pollination in your innovation project

A recent HBR article talks about the fact that today’s professionals are increasingly driven by purpose and passion. A recent global survey conducted by PwC, for instance, indicated that employees consider purpose to be more than twice as important, on average, as traditional incentives such as compensation and career promotions.


While reading this article, we recognized two elements that surface over and over again in our interactions, at MTI², with managers and innovation teams across industries and geographies.


First, it is very important for innovation managers and innovation teams to answer the question asked in the article (“why are we here?). That is, firms that define and clearly communicate an innovation purpose that is firmly grounded on their customers, outperform others.


Second, what truly separates firms that win in innovation from the "rest of the pack" is their capacity to execute and deliver on their promises and the above-mentioned purpose.


From our decade-long experience with innovation processes at MTI², we believe that promoting "cross-pollination" is one of the key predictors of the success of innovation processes.


For instance, cross-pollination avoids teams from relying on standard frames of thinking and falling prey to their habitual behaviors (seeing problems through the same lens over and over).

But what is cross-pollination? In biology, cross pollination occurs when a plant pollinates a plant of another variety (typically with the help of busy bees). Cross-pollination combines genetic material from both plants resulting in novel seeds with characteristics of both varieties. The seeds produced as a result of cross-pollination have higher levels of vigor and vitality than other seeds.

We observe a similar phenomenon in the context of innovation: Firms that free a diverse a set of employees from their "home departments" and give them sufficient opportunity to "mingle" with colleagues from different functions, geographies and backgrounds, are able to generate and implement innovation ideas with higher levels of vigor and vitality than other firms.




Over time, we believe that removing barriers to cross-pollination helps firms generate and deploy innovations that create lasting value.

We believe that there are multiple reasons why cross-pollination helps firms achieve better innovation outcomes. For instance, cross-pollination avoids teams from relying on standard frames of thinking and falling prey to their habitual behaviors (seeing problems through the same lens over and over). Moreover, the different “languages” spoken by different members in a diverse set of ideators forces everyone to clarify their reasoning and understand each other’s perspectives, in turn avoiding premature consensus and promoting useful cognitive complexity (consideration of many scenarios). The ensuing dissent eventually leads ideators to converge to better decisions. Finally, as team members attempt to see the world through each other’s eyes, they become better able to generate ideas that are at the same time novel, useful and feasible.



In sum, in order to leverage the diverse knowledge of their employees, we believe that firms should not only define the purpose but also encourage collaboration among a diverse set of employees. Over time, we believe that removing barriers to cross-pollination helps firms generate and deploy innovations that create lasting value.

© 2019 MTI²

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