Serendipitous exchanges fuel innovation

twitter innovation networkWell, well, well…someone finally mapped out on Twitter what we intuitively know about how innovations happens:

The more diverse a person’s social network, the more likely that person is to be innovative. A diverse network provides exposure to people from different fields who behave and think differently. Good ideas emerge when the new information received is combined with what a person already knows.

It’s really simple, interactions, not individuals, drive breakthroughs.

A lot of these random interactions happen on online networks, like Twitter. So, MIT conducted a study to find out if Twitter makes employees more innovative. They found that there’s a link between the diversity in people’s Twitter networks & the quality of their ideas:

You have to break out of your network to innovate

As I wrote last week, you won’t find new ideas in the mainstream. Instead, the intersection between domains, industries and practices is where new ideas are born; and Twitter is a great tool for putting yourself in that intersection.

Getting people to interact is a key principle of innovation in both cities and online networks. So critical that cities are designing their own innovation districts to achieve cross pollination of ideas between people.

Again, getting people to interact with unusual suspects is critical for innovation because what kills most innovation isn’t lack of ideas, it’s lack of relationships. This is probably the one fact you can count on of what is necessary to make true innovation happen,because creativity doesn’t happen in one person’s head, rather in the interaction between a person’s thoughts and their context. And collaborating with individuals from different disciplines allows you to see the issue from a new perspective; which drives the potential for better ideas.

Innovators avoid homogeneity at all costs

So, to get those great ideas to emerge, businesses and cities must design for it; including online networks like Twitter. All of this matters because homogeneity breeds failure, which means that you must design for diversity of thought; not more of the same folks which come up with more of the same ideas.

From the MIT study:

“I don’t necessarily want to follow more people. I just want to follow people whose opinions don’t always align with my own, which is kind of an ongoing battle because after a year or so of following the same people, you find that your opinions shift and morph a little, and suddenly you are with a homogenous group of people again.”


I believe that, if understood how to use it, Twitter is an innovation network anybody can tap into; more so than Facebook and LinkedIn. Because by it’s very nature, unlike Facebook where we connect with people we already know, Twitter is designed for collisions between unusual suspects. As they say, Facebook is for people I already know and Twitter is for people I want to know.

Bottom line: Serendipitous exchanges fuel innovation.