For innovation, don’t ignore the Zero Gravity Thinker

Cover of "The Innovation Killer: How What...

Cover via Amazon

It’s been a while since I’ve posted about a book about innovation. Being that there are so many of them, and I get quite a few to read and review, there are only a handful that I would recommend. The Innovation Killer by Cynthia Barton Rabe is one of those that I recommend you read.

This is one of the best “least talked about” books about innovation out there. And, it isn’t even new. It was published in 2006, but it’s ideas will always be relevant because it focuses on how an organization can overcome human nature.

There are many companies that follow the basics that contribute to innovation: they create diverse teams, they encourage dissent and accept that mistakes will be made.

Yet, the two main killers of innovation, expert think and group think, are not kept at bay. They become blinders, and most don’t have a way to determine when this happens.

When this happens, it is easy to blame the process of innovation you have been following. But processes will not keep human nature at bay. For that you need an outside perspective: a zero gravity thinker, as she calls them.

Zero Gravity Thinkers (I very much fit into this concept) are quite simply Renaissance Men. Or, commonly known in innovation circles as T shaped people. According to Barton, to be effective, Zero Gravity Thinkers must be temporary (never permanent) team members with three characteristics – psychological distance from the team, renaissance tendencies (strong intellectual curiosity combined with an inventive/creative streak), and related expertise (knowledge relevant to the particular challenge).

The value, then, that Zero Gravity Thinkers bring to the table is an unbiased-outside perspective. The power of the outsider is rarely used as a weapon against entropy within organizations. This is a book that shows you how to do it.

P.S. I just read this book this week because it appeared on my “recommended list” in my Kindle. It was a quick read. And it’s only $4.39 on Amazon!

Enhanced by Zemanta
  • Pavel Bogdashov

    I agree – having the Zero Gravity Thinkers is crucial. This is the field where consultants add value to organisations – and this is good: organisations benefit and consultants can make a great deal of revenue.

    I wonder, how could we improve on this?.. What if we had Zero Gravity Thinking for hire on Google Helpouts? Less cost, more choice for organisations – extra revenue for practitioners. I guess it could be similar to Kaggle Competitions. Is it worth testing out as an experiment?

    • Hi @PavelBogdashov,

      Yup. Organizations should have a network of outsiders that they can tap/pull into conversations as needed. There are a handful of ways to “create the Zero Gravity effect” without the use of outsiders, but even that is not common.

      Regarding Google Helpouts, it is a good idea. I’ve been testing it for the last two months but it still needs some work. is another service that can be used for that, but I just don’t see organizations looking for outsiders this way. At least it hasn’t happened to me yet. It’s tough enough to get them to accept Renaissance thinking!

      Have you experimented with Helpouts? Hangouts?

      • Pavel Bogdashov

        No, I haven’t tried either yet – but the Google Helpouts platform looks perfect for experimenting with this sort of thing. Selling it to organisations is a challenge – I agree… Would you consider writing a blog post about it? I got to your blog through a link my colleague shared – may be if you posted something about it some companies will give it a go? What do you think?

        • @PavelBogdashov,

          It is still very uncommon. Beyond the cost benefit, selling it to organizations is not easy since there is some communication issues, and triage, that have to be resolved beforehand (live recording of what is being discussed). Plus, organizations are not actively using Helpouts to look for help. We have to offer and push them…

          I’ll be doing one or two workshops through Hangouts this month and might make them live. I want to do these before I publish any blogs posts about them. I’ll let you know when I’m ready to publish that post 😉

          I do the workshops through Hangouts on my own, but I’m collaborating with another team in Mexico to test this delivery/development model further, and a team in the UK is helping us with the “conversation architecture”.

          Has your organization thought about testing Helpouts/Hangouts yet?

          • Pavel Bogdashov

            No – for all the good stuff I mentioned to you, we are still behind on the tools we use. It is great we have Yammer and SharePoint. I believe the two are great for internal social networking and collaboration (a potent mixture for the innovators). But when it comes to going external – we haven’t embraced any collaboration tools, really…

            I think we should experiment with this sort of thing, though. I have done some conference presentations and cross-company knowledge sharing sessions last year – those were brilliant, but you have to be there in person. I would love to try Google Hangout or Helpouts as an alternative.

            If you could share your experience – that would be great. I am also going to try a few things and tell you how I get on.

          • @PavelBogdashov,


            Key challenges for getting people engaged are how to use the Hangout capability beyond sitting in front of a camera and speaking with other people.

            How to productively collaborate is still very much in the air, there is no clear case study beyond “panel type discussions”.

            I’ll let you know if I make the workshop live or when I publish it on the blog.



      • Pavel Bogdashov

        Actually just realised you have a “Work with me” page that refers to Google Hangout. What is your experience with that?

        • @PavelBogdashov,

          It is very much still a work in progress. I’ve used it for workshops so far, and am experimenting with it for something more extensive which I’ll launch in the first part of this year. More to come…

  • Pingback: Are all innovators alike? | Game-Changer()

  • Pavel Bogdashov

    Just finished reading the Innovation Killer – and really enjoyed it. As an organisation we tend to outsource creative process to experts in the same field and then get surprised with mediocre outcomes. Embedding an outsider with related expertise but from a different field can help us break through the assumptions and start inventing new ways of solving complex problems.

    • Hi @pavelbogdashov:disqus,

      Yeah it’s about taking advantage of a fresh set of eyes. Glad you enjoyed it 🙂

  • Pingback: Innovation needs outsiders. Here's how to source them | Game-Changer()

  • Pingback: The attitude needed to be a better forecaster...and innovator | Game-Changer()