The Innovative Team – Unleashing Creative Potential for Breakthrough Results (Book Summary)



“I failed my way to success.” — Thomas Edison

With great teams, comes great conflict.  At least during the typical Forming and Storming stages, according to Bruce Tuckman’s four stages of group development (FormingStormingNormingPerforming.)

But is there a way to move through these stages more effectively … with less pain, and better results?

Better yet, is there a way to get the best out of everybody on the team and deliver more innovation while doing so?

In the book, The Innovative Team: Unleashing Creative Potential for Breakthrough Results, Chris Grivas and Gerard J. Puccio show us how to create high-performing teams that can deliver innovative solutions to big challenges.

Anybody Can Innovate

The real beauty of Grivas’ and Puccio’s book is that they reinforce the message that anybody can innovate.  Throughout The Innovate Team, they remind us that creative thinking is a teachable and trainable skill.

Another beauty is the authors give us a model for understanding the stages of innovation:

  1. Clarify the situation
  2. Generate Ideas
  3. Develop Solutions
  4. Implement Plans

They also give us a language for understanding the 4 different cognitive styles for how we prefer to organize and process information: Clarifiers, Ideators, Developers, and Implementers.

The Innovation Team Helps Make Innovation a Team Sport

By the time you finish the book, you’ll understand exactly what creates conflict during a project life cycle, as well as how to address it.  Even better, you’ll fully understand your own cognitive style, and how to play better with others.  

And, as a leader, you learn how to both appreciate and better integrate the different cognitive styles to create better breakthroughs and innovations that truly change your game.

From a very practical perspective, The Innovative Team shows you how to map out the problem space, use open-ended questions to elaborate on ideas, then spread a limited set of votes across the ideas — get agreements and clarity on the problem, focus team thinking and build convergence on which problem(s) to work, which solution(s) to run with, and how to move forward in a way that brings the team along in a way that supports their cognitive style and how they like to solve creative problems.

Let’s dive into The Innovative Team

What’s In It For You?

Here is a sampling of some of the challenges that The Innovative Team helps you with:

  • How to resolve conflict between Clarifiers, Ideators, Developers, and Implementers
  • How anyone can attain much more innovative and targeted results
  • How to go from a dysfunctional team to a high-performance team creating breakthrough innovations and accelerating business results
  • Learn a common understanding of innovation and the universal creative process we all naturally take to generate a breakthrough
  • How to enable teams to reach their goals more quickly, deliberately and cooperatively
  • How to understand and prevent sources of conflict and work better together
  • Learn new and effective tools for enhanced team performance
  • Learn the details of the four stages of a dynamic breakthrough thinking process

Key Features of the Book

Here are some of the key features of The Innovative Team:

  • Storytelling.    If you’re into business fables, this will be right up your alley.   Personally, I prefer to cut to the chase.  I do well with just key points, the facts, and the figures.  I have plenty of stories and I’m well-versed in the challenges of leading teams through innovation.  That said, I can fully appreciate how the story approach here lets you be a fly on the wall and see yourself in parts of it.  If you aren’t familiar with the various conflicts and situations, this gives you some great vicarious experience in a practical way.
  • Fast read.   I read the book in a single session.   I like books that I can start and finish in under two hours and walk away with something useful.
  • Proven Practices.   The book is based on applies research and learnings from the field.
  • Research-based.  The ForeSight framework itself, used throughout the book, is tempered by more than a decade of real-world field testing in corporate and nonprofit settings on six continents, and it’s built on over twenty years of solid scientific research that examines human creativity and invention.
  • Strengths and Weaknesses of the Team.   One of my favorite features in the book is an enumeration of the strengths and weaknesses of the team against the stage of innovation they are in.
  • How To Move the Group Through This Stage.  Another of my favorite features in the book is a strategy section on each innovation stage and how to move the team through it in a more effective way.

Chapters at a Glance

Here is a list of the chapters in The Innovative Team:

Chapter 1 – We Have a Problem
Chapter 2 – Just What Kind of Duck are We Dealing with Here?
Chapter 3 – The Sum of the Parts
Chapter 4 – The Need and the Way Out
Chapter 5 – Thinking About Thinking
Chapter 6 – Mapping a Minefield
Chapter 7 – The Power of a Good Question
Chapter 8 – From Wild to Workable
Chapter 9 – Combing the Unlikely
Chapter 10 – Be Careful What You Wish For
Chapter 11 – Preserving the Novelty
Chapter 12 – Priming the Pump
Chapter 13 – The Pieces Come Together
Chapter 14 – What’s the POINt?
Chapter 15 – Assisting Acceptance
Chapter 16 – Sealing the Deal
Chapter 17 – Applying the Framework
Chapter 18 – Clarifying the Situation
Chapter 19 – Generating Ideas
Chapter 20 – Developing Solutions
Chapter 21 – Implementing Plans
Chapter 22 – The Combination of Preferences Within People
Chapter 23 – Creating Conditions for Success

Here is a sampling of some of my favorite nuggets from the book …

The Faster Things Change, the Better at Innovation You Need to Be

Innovation is part of adapting to change.

Grivas and Puccio write:

“The faster things change, many experts say, the stronger your creative thinking and problem-solving skills need to be.  To successfully compete in the twenty-first century, leaders are calling for increased training in creative problem solving everywhere from boardrooms to elementary classrooms.”

Everyone Strives for Innovation, but Few Succeed

If you don’t know how you use your creative resources, it’s tough to innovate on a regular basis and actually be successful.

Grivas and Puccio write:

“This is why so many organizations emphasize innovation — new products, new services, new businesses models, new markets, new forms of operations, and so on.  Look at your own organization’s vision, mission, or values statement. 

If it is like most, innovation will be mentioned prominently.  Everyone strives to be innovative but few succeed.  Why?  The reality is that organizations have a hard time being truly innovative without awareness of how they use their creative resources.”

The 4 Stages of Innovation (The Breakthrough Thinking Process)

According to Grivas and Puccio, there are 4 well-known and distinct steps to the Creative Process:

  1. Clarify the situation
  2. Generate Ideas
  3. Develop Solutions
  4. Implement Plans

Grivas and Puccio write:

“’This process simply puts names of the stages of innovation that we all do naturally.  There is no big revelation here.  The revelation comes in what happens when we consciously follow this process as a team. 

The power comes in how well we diverge and converge in each phase.  And as we reflect on how we work together, you might find that we all approach this ‘natural’ process in a unique way. 

We all have different preferences when it comes to where we like to spend our time in the breakthrough thinking process.  Those preferences will show up when the team works together.’”

Lack of Process Awareness is Lack of Self-Awareness

When you understand the process that the team is working in, by making it explicit, you create awareness, which leads to self-awareness and more effectiveness across the team.

At one point in the story, Kate shares an insight on the whiteboard about why knowing the Breakthrough Innovation Process can help the team be more effective throughout the journey ahead:

  1. Talking about process is a form of holding each other accountable, which can be uncomfortable.
  2. People lead with their preferences.
  3. Awareness of process is self-awareness.
  4. Without self-awareness, we are more likely to repeat mistakes of the past.

Why ForeSight?

FourSight helps answer the fundamental question:

Where do I prefer to spend my energy within the creative process?”

Grivas and Puccio write:

“FourSight enables teams to understand their patterns of thinking and then to more deliberately manage themselves to accomplish a task.  What sets FourSight apart from other frameworks is that it goes beyond personality to hone in on what happens when your individual personality is confronted with the task of solving problems creatively. 

The more you know about the way you think, the more you can deliberately use your strengths.  If you need to get to some breakthrough thinking, looking at your (and your team’s) preferences for the creative process will enable you to alter your usual patterns, use your time more effectively, and generate new productivity.”

The 4 ForeSight Cognitive Styles

The 4 Cognitive Styles of ForeSight are:  Clarifiers, Ideators, Developers, and Implementers.

Here is a brief summary of each:

  1. Clarifiers – Analyze and clarify the situation
  2. Ideators – Blue sky or big picture thinkers, continuously generate big ideas
  3. Developers – Tirelessly focus on developing and perfecting the solution.
  4. Implementers – Implementing the plan and moving to the next project.

When you don’t know or expect these different styles, you run into misunderstanding, frustration, judgment, and conflict

We Are Not All Equally Creative

Creative thinking is a teachable and trainable skill, even if we all have different aptitudes.

Grivas and Puccio write:

“We are not all equally creative, but we can improve our creativity.  Sorry to say that we are not all Edisons, Fords, Zuckerbergs, Rolwings, Spielbergs, or Angelous.  The good news is that no matter what your natural set point is for creative thinking, it can be enhanced through training and practice.  More than seventy research studies agree that individuals can be taught to be more effective creative thinkers.”

Creative Thinking is a Life Skill

The beauty of creative thinking is that it applies to work and to life.

Grivas and Puccio write:

“More than just a professional skill, creative thinking is also a life skill.  You face challenges and opportunities in your personal life that require you to think in new ways.

Consider the opportunities and challenges that come along with relationships, with parenting, with managing a household, with pursuing your biggest dreams.  Life comes with challenges but these challenges are much, much easier when we face them with creative thinking.”

The Team Kick-Off

One of the best parts of the book is the team kick-off where Kate joins the team as a new leader.  Kate makes a great move where she asks each person, in an open forum, to share where they like to spend their time when working through a problem.   This made it easy to see the FourSight cognitive styles in action.

Here is how Kate kicked the meeting off:

“’Before we get started with setting our new direction, I think it’s important we get to know each other a little bit,’ Kate asserted with a little too much urgency in her voice. ‘Let’s go around the table.  Tell me not just your name and roles but also one thing you really like doing when it comes to being part of a team charged with solving a problem.  What’s something you enjoy focusing on?’”

Here are some of the answers as Kate Murdock went around the table, and she led off:

  • Kate Murdock: “I would say the part of the process I enjoy most is coming up with ideas and making sure they fit the client’s needs.  I like to sort through ideas, develop some into great solutions, and put them into action.”
  • Damon Miller: “I’m the marketing analyst on the team and I guess what I enjoy most is … finding the recommendations for the client.”
  • Elaine Cassidy:… I’m a business analyst. … I like to get the product to the client.  I like to make sue we have a strong deliverable and that our recommendations are ready to go.”
  • Amy Satori: ‘”I’m Amy Satori, the data integration specialist, and I guess that’s where I like to spend my time.  I like going deep into data and getting a real clear picture of a situation.  If I don’t have a clear picture of what’s happening, it’s kind of hard to move forward with confidence.  I keep thinking we’ve missed something.”
  • Maya Russo: “I am Maya Russo and I’m an associate business analyst.  I guess I don’t really know where I have the most fun spending my time.  I’ve been active in each part of the engagement process in the past couple of years.  As people are describing what they like to do, I’m listening and thinking, ‘yeah, I like to do that, too.’  I guess you’ll see how that plays out as we work together.”
  • Juan Alvarez: “I’m Juan Alvarez, senior business analyst.  I guess I’m like Amy in that I like to get into the data and work on making the solutions we come up with stronger.  If we don’t get enough time to really sort through the information, I just won’t be happy with the end results.  I need to be able to get my arms around something, whether it’s a the problem itself or our recommended solution.  I need the time to get to know it well.”
  • Tony Martin: “I like it when engagements go well and we have happy clients! It’s my job to manage that relationship so that we produce something of value for our clients.  I get to know them and I get to know what makes them tick.  I guess I ilke to gather data, like some of you, but I also like seeing something happen with that data.  I’m not above having fun, either.  Sometimes I think that helps us relax and look at things differently. … I hope you’ll get to see that as we move forward.  But it should be no surprise that I also am focused on the bottom line.  When our clients are happy, I’m happy.”

Example: Implementers Conflicting with Clarifiers

Some of the cognitive styles are clearly at odds, especially at certain stages of innovation.

Grivas and Puccio write:

“’I think those who are driven to implement haven’t been giving their teammates time to clarify.  When I asked why Consolidated isn’t satisfied, I got the sense that pressure to get the product out the door had limited their creativity.  They had sprinted to the finished product without exploring novel options that might be real opportunities for the client.’”

No One Wanted to Work with Him

Smart enough is not good enough.   You have to be great to work with.

Grivas and Puccio write:

“’No, that wasn’t the straw that broke the camels back.  It got worse.  He’d make decisions without consulting people.  He’d lecture on and on, trying to impress us with his experience and intellect. 

He’d point out every mistake we made and get upset if he wasn’t getting what he wanted.  He was a real piece of work.  Eventually, he was let go because no one wanted to work with him.  I just remember all that ego and self-importance.  If any of that ego was earned by expertise, that expertise wasn’t missed when he left.’”

You’ve Got to Meet People Where They are

You can’t just shove a new process down people’s throats.  You have to first build rapport.

Grivas and Puccio write:

“It’s great to bring folks this breakthrough thinking process, Kate.  Especially, when you see its promise.  But you’ve got to meet your people where they are.  If you want them on your side, they have got to know in their gut that you’re on their side.’ 

Tony paused for a moment, ‘Think for a second about a leader who really made a difference to you.  How did he or she treat you? I mean personally?’”

What Great Leaders Do

We all know somebody who lifted us up or helped us see what we didn’t see while working on a challenging project.  At one point in the story, Tony asks Kate for an example of how somebody who inspired and led her more effectively.

Grivas and Puccio write:

“’She’s ask me questions about what I’ve done, what’s worked.  And then she’d ask me about the next steps.  Occasionally, she’d help me summarize something I’d done.  Like once when I was working on a project and had this great idea I was implementing that just wasn’t working out, she asked me about why I thought it was such a great idea. 

Where was the data to back up why the idea solved the problem?  Where was the planning for getting support for the idea? I could immediately see where I went wrong.  I had to go back to the start, which I hated to do.  But it was better than beating my head against a wall trying to get an idea working that no on saw any value in.’”

Statement Starters

One of the tools Grivas and Puccio share to help drive elaboration is to use “statement starters.”  By using  open-ended questions, you invite lots of possibilities and solutions.

Here are 4 example statement starters:

  1. ‘How to …’
  2. ‘How might …’
  3. ‘In what ways might …’
  4. “What might …’

Building Trust on the Team

Sometimes you need to put things out on the table or call people out.  It’s part of building trust, and shining the light on things so they don’t become backdoor or sniper attacks.

Grivas and Puccio write:

“’Why wouldn’t it work?’ Kate said.  ‘Do you expect me to be the decision maker of this team?  Is that the way I’ve been behaving?’ Kate smiled at Juan.  She knew where his reaction was coming from. 

She also knew she had to call him on his thinking to build trust with the group.  They needed to trust in her leadership style as well as trust in the process.  Juan was almost there; he just needed gentle reminders.’”

What’s the POINt?

Grivas and Puccio write:

“’Plusses, opportunities, issues, and new thinking.  It uses some of the same techniques we have been using in other parts of the breakthrough process, such as phrasing concerns as questions, and incorporate the guidelines of diverging and converging into its steps.  Want to give it a try?’”

Moving a Group Through Clarifying the Situation

Grivas and Puccio share the big picture strategy for helping move a group through the Clarifying the Situation stage of innovation:

“Clarifying is all about exploring the situation at hand by asking questions and gathering enough data to steep the team in a deep understanding of the situation. 

The team will show they have a solid grasp of the situation by creating a few open-ended challenge questions that target core issues.  With these questions in hand, the team can move on to the next stage in the breakthrough thinking process.”

Moving a Group Through Generating Ideas

Grivas and Puccio share actions to help move a group through the Generation Ideas stage of innovation:

  • Know the preferences of your team.  How might you predict they will behave in this phase of the process? Will they stay in it too long or not long enough?
  • Know your own preferences so you can manage yourself well during the process.
  • Present and enforce the guidelines for divergent and convergent thinking.
  • Be prepared to use some idea-spurring questions or a tool such as forced connections to help the team move on from the obvious ideas and stretch their thinking.
  • When converging, look for that sparking new idea or a theme or general direction to develop into a workable solution.

Moving a Group Through Developing Solutions

Grivas and Puccio share strategies for moving the group through the Developing Solutions stage of innovation:

“Ultimately, developing is about the team itself.  Major innovations tend to happen through group effort. 

If you asked the question, ‘Who invented the Space Shuttle?’ you’d find the answer is not a single person but a team working together, testing ideas, fitting pieces together. 

In our story, when it came time to develop different aspects of the report, the team formed sub teams that brought in expertise from around their firm.  Each team was charged with building out its aspect of the recommendations for Consolidated.’”

This is where you can see a lot of disparity in action between the 4 ForeSight cognitive styles.  Grivas and Puccio write:

“’Developing is all about incrementally improving ideas, making them stronger, more targeted, and ultimately more usable.  People who prefer this stage will identify appropriate measures, test the ideas, and blissfully try to create perfection. 

Those on your team without such a preference may lose some energy here.  Implementers may want to rush to the end.  Ideators may want to still come up with new ideas rather than work to improve the ideas they have already generated.  Clarifiers may be continually asking whether the ideas really get at the original question they are trying to solve.’”

The key is effective project managmeent.  Grivas and Puccio write:

“’If you are leading a group through this stage your challenge is going to be to keep the group together and on track.  This will likely require a bit of project management skills in assigning appropriate work deliberately, such as measurement or testing activities.  Be sure people know where they are in the process and what is coming next so that they don’t feel lost.’”

Moving a Group Through Implementing Plans

Grivas and Puccio share actions for moving a group through the Implementing Plans stage of innovation:

  • Know the preferences of your team.  How might you predict they will behave in this stage of the process?  Will they stay in too long or not long enough?
  • Know your own preferences so you can manage yourself well during this stage?
  • Remember that successful implementation is dependent on two key skills — effective change management and effective project management.
  • Involve others in finalizing the plan so that you have more diversity of thought while increasing the likelihood of early adoption of the solution.
  • Use assisters-resisters to uncover missing steps in the action plan and deal with potential obstacles early.

The Integrator Style

Is there a cognitive style that puts it all together?  It’s the Integrator.

Grivas and Puccio write:

“There are of course many other combinations of types, each with their potential plusses and negatives.  In our story, the character Maya represents one of the more common combinations of preferences — the integrator.  She was comfortable with all the stages in the process with no clear preferences for one stage or another. 

Integrators are indeed a special group.  If you are leading a team and are lucky enough to have an integrator in the mix, you may be able to leverage that person’s abilities strategically to move the team on to the next phase of the process or to act as a mediator between team members of different preferences.”

“If you are an integrator yourself you will likely sail through the process with ease and thoughtfulness.  Because of this natural flexibility, you may be able to see both sides of a disagreement.  You may also let others with strong preferences dominate the conversation rather than challenge them.”

Here’s how to recognize an Integrator:

  • Easily relate to each preference.
  • Give even energy across the four stages of the process.
  • Are concerned about group harmony.
  • Mediate style differences between others and plug gaps.
  • Are team players.
  • Can be a stabilizing influence on the team.
  • May lose their own voice by pleasing others.

6 Conditions of Success

Grive and Puccio have found across their research that there are six conditions for creating success. The critical conditions for creating success are:

  1. Idea time.
  2. Idea support.
  3. Debate.
  4. Freedom and play.
  5. Acceptance of risk.
  6. Trust.

Get the Book


The Innovative Team: Unleashing Creative Potential for Breakthrough Results, by Chris Grivas and Gerard J. Puccio

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