Good ideas do not emerge in just one place within a company. They are promoted by horizontal sharing between departments.
An invention is often the result of a combination of existing concepts. Johannes Gutenberg definitely would not have invented the printing press if he had not thought about using the wine press to transfer text onto paper, using lead characters. Larry Page and Sergueï Brin might not have been able to develop the algorithm behind the search engine Google if they had not been inspired by a system used to find academic articles (the more citations articles had in other articles, the higher their “attributed value” and the higher they found themselves in the search results).
Innovating in all departments
Creativity often results from some kind of crossover. When you transplant a concept into an environment other than the one in which it emerged, you find new uses for it, you perfect it and you develop other ideas inspired by it. This “horizontal” sharing means not confining yourself to encouraging innovation in a particular division of the company – for example, research and development – but trying to promote it in all departments.
For example, the American company 3M, known as one of the most creative companies in terms of innovation, organizes a Tech Forum every year where scientists from different divisions of the company can meet and discuss the latest discoveries made in their laboratories. Google does the same, with an annual conference called Crazy Search Ideas. 3M takes this one step further, organizing rotations of its engineers, who swap divisions within the company at regular intervals.
Transfers of ideas between departments
The consequence of this horizontal sharing is that employees start focusing on information that they would normally view as trivial or imagining analogies between apparently unrelated sectors. One of 3M’s engineers was inspired in this way by the transparent adhesive on sticky tape – an innovation of this Minnesota-based company which dates back to 1925 – to invent the touch screen technology used today on smartphones. The adhesive is used to fix an electrically charged glass panel to the screen.
Sources: Imagine: How Creativity Works, Jonah Lehrer, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012.