Mythical Innovation: Start-up


A young software company with a team of talented programmers wanted to build a robust innovation process to expand beyond the work it had done for a core client into new markets and customers. While the company’s executive team and its coders were deeply involved in the open source community, and had founded the startup itself, none of them had participated in a “blue sky” innovation effort in which both the product and its potential market were completely unknown.


Our initial work with the team revealed a not uncommon belief system blocking the path towards innovative thinking and action: without even being aware of it, the team believed that “others” invented great landmark pieces of technology, not them. Expanding beyond such a belief system requires feeling into, identifying, and then exploring what it means to be a human being at his or her very best—and how to combine that energy in a team environment to build a cascading and reinforcing series of insights. Through a combination of standing practice, emotional descent, and cognitive vulnerability practices—all aimed at unearthing the team’s core (and often unseen) assumptions—we arrived at a decisive session in which a collective moment of liberation occurred. Suddenly, but after much hard work, the team collectively grasped that there was literally no barrier, other than their own self-imposed limitations, to their imaginative and programming capacity. Having released this belief, the team began to accelerate rapidly and create not only a compelling idea, but a spec, design and communication process that will support future innovation efforts.


Now it was as if invisible shackles had been removed. A wonderful synergy grew into the group. Difficult issues of specifications, architecture, and the whole host of thorny matters that accompany software development were no longer divisive but rather opportunity for close collaboration—benefits that spilled beyond the innovation process into the company’s more routine work. A server crash, for example, that might have previously occasioned dissent and finger-pointing now became an opportunity for group problem-solving free of defensive postures.

As a result, overall contracted programming productivity increased, freeing up essential time to work on the innovation side of the company. Working closely together the group developed the foundational elements for an innovative set of software applications that it has since begun to develop.