Research by professors Ralph Katz and Tom Allen of the MIT Sloan School of Management supports Noam’s experience. As part of their study of research and development teams, they examined the relationship between the length of time that people had been working together in a particular project area—what they called “group longevity”—and the level of communication of project groups at various stages of their lives. Three areas of interpersonal oral communication were examined for each team: intra-project communication, organizational communication, and professional communication. Each team’s technical performance was also measured by department managers and laboratory directors.19

The higher-performing groups had significantly more communication with people outside their labs, whether with organizational units such as marketing and manufacturing or with outside professional associations. Intriguingly, however, groups that had been together the longest reported lower levels of communications in all three areas and “were significantly more isolated from external sources of new ideas and technological advances and from information within other organizational divisions, especially marketing and manufacturing.”20 It seems the long-lived teams cut themselves off from the kind of information they needed the most to come up with new ideas, and thus reduced their performance. They’d been together so long, it appears, that they felt they didn’t need to talk to outsiders. They were content just to talk to each other. It’s easy to understand how some workgroups and organizations become myopic and unimaginative. The people themselves aren’t dull or slow-witted; they’ve just become too familiar with their routines and too isolated from outside influences.

There simply aren’t enough good new ideas floating around inside, however, to fill the innovation pipeline. You have to listen to the world outside. You’ve got to tap into the rich field of ideas that exist outside your own borders. Procter & Gamble’s Larry Huston, vice president for innovation and knowledge, and Nabil Sakkab, senior vice president for corporate research and development, talk about the shift in thinking this way:

We needed to move the company’s attitude from resistance to innovations “not invented here” to enthusiasm for those “proudly found elsewhere.” And we needed to change how we defined, and perceived, our R&D organization—from 7,500 people to 7,500 plus 1.5 million outside, with a permeable boundary between them. It’s against this backdrop that we created the connect and develop innovation model.21

Huston and Sakkab go on to relate how this new model has worked for P&G. “Today more than 35% of our new products in market have elements that originated from the outside, up from 15% in 2000. And 45% of the initiatives in our product development portfolio have key elements that were discovered externally.”22 This is quite a shift for a company that had previously developed almost all of its new products internally or had acquired other companies in order to buy the new offerings. Huston and Sakkab believe theirs is not an isolated case: “We believe that the connect and develop will become the dominant innovation model in the twenty-first century.”23 We suggest that you heed their advice and begin connecting to others with great ideas and developing those much needed innovations.

The Leadership Challenge by Barry Z. Posner, James M. Kouzes