How to come up with innovative ideas

Innovation and creativity can’t happen in a “yes” bubble, says CEO of Northern Star Acquisition Company Joanna Coles. While like-minded individuals might be able to arrive at decisions quickly, curiosity and skepticism are necessary to tease out greatness and push boundaries.

On this week’s Most Innovative Companies podcast, Joanna Coles explains the business case for all leaders to surround themselves with independent working minds that are connected to culture, both within the broader world around us as well as the communities we live, work, and thrive in.

“What’s valuable about having an independent outside voice is they can just ask questions,” Coles says. “Sometimes in the nature of the questions you find an answer, or you try to shine a light on something that you think might need more oblique angles.”

Surrounding yourself with people who are tapped into the world in ways that are different from you, Coles says, is a great thing. Even a dose of skepticism can help, something Coles routinely provides—in addition to advice and strategic guidance—via the various board seats she fills on the likes of Snap, Sonos, and Grover, among others.

Coles herself is naturally curious. As a journalist, writer, and media producer, she has her finger on the pulse of what’s going on with the next generation as it applies to media, social media, entertainment, and everything in between.

She places a lot of emphasis on the value of observation. Talking to people. Interacting and engaging—and above all else, asking questions and actively listening—are each essential for grasping what people want and need. In other words, pay attention so that you can come to the table with the audience’s point of view.

As she puts it, she loves nothing more than to just turn up and look at the world. But it’s not enough to simply “be” or “ask”—you need to listen and then act: “It’s always worth talking to people. I think the question is, what are you asking them? What are you listening for? And what are you not hearing when they tell you things?”

“There are just clues everywhere,” she says. “Data’s incredibly useful as long as it’s good, but don’t ignore the ‘human.’ The ‘human’ is really important.”

Because, she says the “human” informs culture, presenting problems to solve and needs to fill and therefore creating room for innovation.

Listen to the episode for the full interview.

You can listen and subscribe to Most Innovative Companies on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotifyor wherever you get your podcasts.

James Vincent is the guest host of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies podcast. He is also a partner and CEO of FNDR, where he has helped founders of some of the world’s biggest companies, including Airbnb and Snap, use the power of narrative to give voice to their vision. Before FNDR and for over a decade, James worked alongside Steve Jobs building Apple’s narrative.

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