To improve innovation on a team, consider building a team differently based on the problem you’re facing. There are many ways of categorizing a problem your team must solve, but one is along the axis of well-definedness.
Well-defined problems – here, you know what you’re trying to solve, you know what end-state your audience will find acceptable, maybe you’ve seen similar problems solved elsewhere or you even know some current acceptable solutions.
Poorly-defined problems – these might be more general problems, things you’ve never encountered before, problems nobody else is even thinking about yet. Maybe your boss doesn’t know the full shape of things, or maybe the full shape of things is not yet knowable.
Research shows that for well-defined problems, having a less experience-diverse team can produce more innovative solutions. Diverse is a loaded word these days, but in the case of the research diversity was measured in terms of experience relevant to the problem. I’m calling that experience-diversity. So – for well-defined problems, having a team comprised of individuals already versed in the problem set produced more innovative solutions.
For poorly-defined problems, having a more experience-diverse team can produce more innovative solutions. Diversity, again, along the lines of folks versed in the problem. This means – if you don’t have a clearly defined problem, get a bunch of folks with a variety of expertise. This will help you find all sorts of solutions, some of which may be obviously appropriate and good, and others which you will need to take more risk on. The whole definition of the poorly-defined problem, though, indicates that you don’t really know what you want until you see it.
You need a team that’ll produce the iPod, for poorly-defined problems. And that takes experience-diversity.
Consider How Well-Defined a Problem is When Building Teams