How to orchestrate innovation: 3 ways to boost creative alignment

By Gaia Grant and Andrew Grant

Adapted excerpt from The Innovation Race book, originally published in a similar format as an article online by Human Resources Media with the title ‘How to orchestrate innovation: 3 ways to boost creative alignment’.

Although having different perspectives is critical for innovation, diverse teams rarely run smoothly. So how it is possible to enable these teams for success? What needs to be done in order to boost creative alignment?

Most musicians learn early on about the power of creative synergy. Though they usually practise alone, most will perform in public in a group or an orchestra.

Members of successful string quartets have been found to be aware of – and able to manage well – the paradoxical tension in their craft; their desire for personal autonomy as a musician and the need to unify the group.

This synchronicity does not happen naturally, however. It takes careful orchestration. Get it right, and the results can be harmonious. Get it wrong, and the results can be painfully discordant.

The innovation process similarly involves individual focus and energies coming together in a constructive way. Most of us need independent focus time to really engage our critical and creative thinking. But that part of the process also needs to be balanced with an openness to building on new information and ideas in collaboration with others.

So, how can you design for creative alignment between autonomous individuals from different perspectives?

1. Identify and leverage different perspectives

Where individual strengths and perspectives are identified within a team, there is a greater opportunity to use them as an advantage. Teams that do this are typically better at resolving complex cognitive tasks, such as decision-making and problem solving.

So, how can this boost creative alignment? A number of useful profiling tools that help to identify individual differences in innovation perspectives are available.

According to our research, individuals tend to have one of the following major preferences when it comes to innovation:

‘Explorer’ –an appetite for risk and desire for knowledge generation, along with a preference for independent ideation and breakthrough innovation

‘Preserver’ –an inclination towards incremental improvements and a desire for knowledge synthesis, along with a preference for more solution focused innovation

(The Innovation Change Leader (iCLi) profile assessment can be taken here)

These different preferences have different strengths and enable distinctive contributions to the innovation process.

Someone who has more of an ‘Explorer’ preference will usually, for example, have a natural curiosity and take creative initiative. These people revel in the ideation phase. They like to challenge the status quo, are typically open to new ideas and making new connections,. They will demonstrate the sort of flexibility that leads to imaginative ideas and novel new concepts – eg. entrepreneurs.

Someone who has more of a ’Preserver’ preference will often, on the other hand, enjoy looking for logical solutions that are a synthesis of ideas. They will prefer the implementation phase and will be good at prototyping, testing and identifying applicability – eg procedure adaptors.

It is only through coordinating the input from both perspectives that the whole innovation process from ideation through to implementation can be successfully completed.

2. Cultivate creative communication

For diverse innovation teams coming from different perspectives, communication is key to success.

MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory closely examined patterns of communication in a client call centre company and found that the best indicator of team success was how engaged in communication team members were outside of formal meetings. The opportunities to connect informally produced more creative collaborative options.

Based on this finding, the MIT consultants recommended that the company adjust their coffee break times so there were more opportunities for informal communication. As a result there was a 20 per cent drop in average handle time in lower-performing teams, and an overall decrease of 8 per cent.

The manager went ahead and changed the break schedule at all 10 of the bank’s call centres, which triggered an increase of more than 10 per cent in employee satisfaction. These changes will impact a total of 25,000 employees and are predicted to increase creativity and productivity by $15 million a year.

3. Establish a clear innovation vision

Unified and coordinated action is required for high-level system change – and to achieve this, the interdependent players need a common belief in the future vision.

Professor Linda Hill, who has researched Pixar and other similar companies for over a decade, found that where there is a common vision and clear alignment strategies there can be more coordinated collaborative creativity.

“Innovation is not about solo genius,” she said. In fact, “it takes about 250 people four to five years. You have to unleash the talents and passions of many people and you have to harness them…[it’s] a type of collaborative problem solving, usually among people who have different expertise and different points of view.”

Through better orchestrating the innovation process it is possible to boost creative alignment and, ultimately, more innovative results.


  1. Hill, L. (2015). How to manage for collective creativity. TEDx. Retrieved from
  2. Longbottom, J. (n.d.) Collaboration among mutually dependent players is required to achieve large scale change in a ground transport system. Texas A&M University. Retrieved from
  3. Murnighan. J. K.. & Conlon, D. e. (1991). The dynamics of intense work groups: A study of British string quartets. Administrative Science Quarterly. 36: 165–186.
  4. Pentland, A. (2012). The new science of building great teams. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from


Gaia Grant and Andrew Grant are the authors of The Innovation Race: How to change a culture to change the game (Wiley August 2016) along with a number of other international bestselling books and resources. As the Directors of Tirian International Consultancy they help to create innovation cultures for a range of international organisations (from Fortune 500 companies through to NFPs). The Grants are top-ranking keynote speakers, and Gaia is an HD researcher and guest lecturer at Sydney University Business School. For more information see


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