5 Myths about Innovation Teams

5 Myths about Innovation Teams

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To create innovative groups, you just have to dispel some myths. And they’re probably not the ones that you’re thinking about.

MYTH 1: innovative groups are only formed by creative people

No. It’s not simply a matter of assembling a group of the most creative people from a company. This is likely to be a recipe for disaster, not for innovation! To create a group with great innovative potential, you need to have a diverse set of profiles: from creative to conservative. In fact, the group should have a slight tendency towards the conservative, with a small ‘c’. It’s true: you do need a certain level of diversity – but not in the way you might automatically think of it.

MYTH 2: innovative groups are highly diverse

Not necessarily. What matters is that they have different mental models (specifically, differently motivated cognitive tendencies). It doesn’t matter much if the group is made up entirely of men, or women, or just black or white people. What matters is that its members have different ways of perceiving the world. If the group is made up of people of various ethnicities, genders and creeds, but they all have the same community and academic background, the ability to innovate is reduced drastically.

MYTH 3: Innovative groups are great environments to work in

Quite the contrary. Innovative groups can be extremely stressful. Such a milieu is often just one step away from World War 3. Anecdotes about how Steve Jobs managed Apple’s teams are an example of how innovative environments can be far from ideal. The people who create exciting ideas are usually passionate about them. The same innovative energy that creates wonderful products creates titanic clashes between group members. Without the adoption of specific conditions to reduce prejudices and control conflicts, innovative groups are liable to implode before finishing the job.

MYTH 4: innovative groups are difficult to put together

Not so much – there are the Brazilian Samba Schools to prove that it’s possible for various organisations to create innovative groups under situations with very scarce resources. Recent academic research has identified the optimal mix between the various types of motivated cognitive tendencies that generate the most innovative groups. And there are simple methods available to identify the different types of cognitive tendencies amongst potential participants.

MYTH 5: innovative groups need clear and pre-defined processes

Not at all. The ideal mixture of different types of motivated cognitive tendencies generates autocratic groups, which, by themselves, in each case scenario, decide whether it’s better to follow the rules or break them. By having an ideal mixture of several mental models, the perceptive and decision-making capabilities of these groups turns out to be very special. It’s precisely because of this ability to make decisions, that these kinds of groups can generate innovative ideas and solutions. These groups need simply to be assigned a limited amount of time and a limited number of resources. They will know how to produce the best possible outcome, given the constraints faced by the group. After all, innovative groups like to create their own rules and logic. Isn’t that so?


This text presents some of the results of a doctoral research in Engineering and Knowledge Management by the doctoral student Mauricio Manhães at the Federal University of Santa Catarina, Brazil. This research is supported by CAPES Foundation, an agency of the Ministry of Education of Brazil. The experiments in this research were done in Germany, Brazil, Ecuador, India, Italy and Poland, with the involvement of about 150 people of various nationalities between the months of June 2011 and November 2013.

Written by: Maurício Manhães
The original portuguese version of this text is here.

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