The implementation of cross-pollination within an office gave the world the movie Toy Story–one of Pixar’s most popular films to date. The possible rewards from cross-pollination in the office is exponentially valuable, as is clearly demonstrated in this example. So, is it worth it for your office to do? Let’s dig deeper.
A profitable use of cross-pollination can perfectly be demonstrated by Steve Jobs’ former management of Pixar. It was the year 1999, and Steve Jobs implemented a daring idea: Let’s get the entire office to intermingle on a daily basis to come up with some potentially valuable ideas. In the center area of the building, Jobs strategically placed conference rooms, the mail room, lavatories, and eating areas. According to Cam Houser of 3DayStartup.org, “The New Yorker quoted Brad Bird – director of The Incredibles and Ratatouille – on Jobs’ role in encouraging collaboration. According to Bird, Steve Jobs ‘made it impossible for you not to run into the rest of the company.’” This led to a widespread start of “coincidental meetings” between numerous individuals in all of Pixar’s departments. The results of this effort gave the world not only Toy Story, but also The Incredibles, another wildly popular film. So, again, is cross-pollination a financially sound movement to implement?
There’s no clear right or wrong, profitable or costly answer here. This is why.
Although it teams with kinetic energy, cross-pollination of employees usually results in many low-valued ideas and some mid-valued ideas. However, highly-valued breakthroughs do occur, and when they do, they tend to be extremely high in value when the disciplines present in the strategy session are diverse in nature. This means, they’re deep in knowledge in one specific specialty, as opposed to general in knowledge about a certain field.
Source: Lee Fleming of the Harvard Business Review
For example, having two fields as different as psychology and economics cross-pollinate usually results in a wide array of typically low-valued ideas. However, it can yield a staggeringly high-valued idea on the off occasion, such as in the early 2000’s when a Nobel Prize was won, “for behavioral economics.”
If you are going to take the risk of cross-pollinating the office–because some may lose interest and shy away in cross-pollination over time if they only create low-valued ideas or it may cannibalize itself by taking away too much time on too low of value ideas–there are ways to heighten your chances of creating a highly-valuable breakthrough. You can do this through the following methods:
Assemble people from fields that have stood the test of time and are very well-known.
Utilize people who have an intimate knowledge of their specialty, as opposed to a shallow understanding.
You also have to consider how desperate your company or organization is for a good idea. Can you afford the time it takes to create a highly-valuable breakthrough idea? How badly do you need a highly-valuable idea? If you can afford the time it takes your human capital to intermingle, get to know each other, and then create ideas, as well as the time it takes to set up an office in such a way that encourages cross-pollination frequently, then you may want to consider trying it out. If you are in great need of a highly-valuable breakthrough, this compounds the idea that you should try cross-pollinating your workforce. Think about what you have to lose, but also what you have to gain; then, take action swiftly!