Creativity has ideas. Innovation has friends. At its heart, innovation is a team sport. While creative geniuses exist in this world, no one wins alone. Many aspiring innovators fail due to their misunderstanding, undervaluing, and/or lack of social intelligence.  

One important aspect of social IQ is the ability to enroll others in your dream, and the most successful innovators in the world have very high social IQs. They recognize the greater the sense of ownership their team has over an idea, the greater its odds of success. However, with innovation, most people do not do this naturally. In fact, they do the opposite.  

Ideas are seductive, and there’s a very human tendency to protect them, to compartmentalize them and – at times – even to become paranoid someone else may steal them or at least take credit for them. Thus, the pervasive non-disclosure agreement. But by being overprotective of an idea, we fail alone - not because the idea was bad, but because no one knew about it or others felt the idea was our idea and not their idea. These barriers are symptomatic of an innovator with a low social IQ. 

As an advisor to dozens of large companies on growth strategy and innovation and an investor in over 100 small ones – I can attest to the fact that successful innovators are those with the ability to build creative coalitions for their ideas. They have very high social IQs. While others build products, they build teams. While others build marketing plans, they build momentum. While others create milestones, they create movements. These are all teachable skills that can build one’s social IQ.  

To illustrate the difference between high and low social IQ innovation, consider one of the most famous innovation battles: Tesla vs. Edison.  

Nikola Tesla, the multi-talented engineer and father of Alternating Current (AC), was – no doubt – a genius. His knowledge of electrical and mechanical engineering led to a series of inventions that were critical to the development of radio communication, X-ray technology, and even attempts at intercontinental wireless transmission (his famed Wardenclyffe Tower). But even though Tesla beat Edison in setting the electrical standard, he was a recluse who lived his finals days in room 3327 at the New Yorker Hotel where he died in poverty in 1943. On the other hand, his nemesis – Thomas Edison, whose Direct Current (DC) lost out to Tesla’s technology led a fruitful life and died a wealthy man. What was the difference between Tesla and Edison?  

While there are many, perhaps the most notable difference when it comes to innovation was their respective social IQs. Tesla had essentially one productive relationship: George Westinghouse (who licensed and commercialized Tesla’s technologies). Edison, on the other hand, was famously well-connected and renown for managing his connections. Edison understood the power of social networking long before it became a tool for sharing cat videos and artisanal mocha lattes. Among Edison’s network were automotive pioneer Henry Ford, tire innovator Harvey Firestone, naturalist and essayist John Burroughs, Bishop William Anderson, and – for good measure – then sitting President of the United States, Warring G. Harding. Known famously as the Vagabonds, in 1918, this creative crew even went camping together in the Smokey Mountains (in Ford’s cars outfitted with Firestone’s tires of course). Edison invested in relationships as much as he invested in ideas. He had very high social IQ.  

But developing social IQ is not only the would-be innovator’s responsibility, it’s a practice incumbent on all those dedicated to talent development. By emphasizing cognition over socialization, we have placed far too much emphasis on thinking differently and not enough on behaving differently. Design thinking, human-centered design, ecosystem analysis, agile – the list goes on, but these are all fundamentally cognitive frameworks. And while they are important, we now must build the next set of capabilities to drive scale with innovation and growth for our organizations. In order to increase our odds of success with innovation, we must increase our collective social intelligence. After all, an idea is worth little if no one cares about it, but it’s worth even less if no one knows about it. 

Andrew Razeghi is founder and Managing Director of StrategyLab, Inc., a lecturer at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, an early-stage investor in over 100 companies, the author of several books, and a popular speaker on innovation and growth. He is also a keynote speaker at the i4cp 2018 Conference (March 26 – 29). Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrewrazeghi.

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