Got a Radical Idea at Work? Find a Partner

The story of Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman, the winners of the 2023 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discoveries underpinning the mRNA vaccines against Covid-19, holds lessons for others pursuing radical ideas. In their article in Harvard Business Review, Paola Bellis, Assistant Professor in Organizational Behavior and Leadership and Innovation, and Roberto Verganti, Professor in Leadership and Innovation, draw on their interview with Karikó and those of others with Weissman and her, to extrapolate lessons on why pairs can be more effective in pursuing seemingly wild ideas and how to find someone to take the journey with you.


Imagine you have an unorthodox idea — one that challenges the dominant assumptions in your organization and industry. How do you develop it? Moving forward alone is hard. On the other hand, you are unlikely to attract or be provided with a large team to pursue an idea that most see as crazy.

The research by Paola Bellis and Roberto Verganti suggests that such radical thinkers thrive in a unique organizational setting by finding one other individual to work with — by operating in pairs.

The article “Got a Radical Idea at Work? Find a Partner.” recently published in Harvard Business Review, explores why and how a couple can help develop unorthodox ideas.

In addition to the interpretation of the story of Katalin Karikò and Drew Weissman’s – based on an interview and other sources – the study is based on more than 30 interviews with couples around the world and on the analysis of more than 60 famous cases, such as Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak for the development of the personal computer, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, to name a few.

Among the success factors of innovative couples emerge relational and behavioral aspects, such as the fact that daring to share a crazy idea is easier in the intimate space of working as a couple. Couples are also more resistant than teams to the difficult moments typical of radical innovation.

To read the complete article:
Got a Radical Idea at Work? Find a Partner” – Harvard Business Review



The leader put to the test with soft skills

In the life of a company, a merger represents one of the most delicate phases. It’s the moment in which two entities with different cultures, histories and leadership styles join forces. It’s a process that must be carefully planned and managed, with the aim of creating a new, shared corporate culture. Only in this way can an integration be truly considered successful. Sergio Gonella, Culture and People Development & Recruiting Director at Wind Tre, a company created at the end of 2016 from the biggest European merger in Telecommunications to date, that between Wind Telecommunication and H3G, followed this process first-hand and talked about it with the students of the Executive MBA programme of Politecnico di Milano’s School of Management as part of the series “A point of view on Leadership”: «We worked two years to best carry out this merger and, from the very beginning, it was clear that the biggest challenges we would face wouldn’t only be at a technological or business level. It was fundamental to concentrate on people. So we decided to involve them, through a wide range of initiatives in which soft skills played a preponderant role».

The three pillars of leadership

These initiatives included «listening activities like engagement surveys, involvement activities through communities, initiatives dedicated to welfare, to development, to learning and to performance management». A strategy that immediately earned Wind Tre the Top Employer certification and that took inspiration from a new leadership model, also in this case defined by the people chosen to lead the new company. «Thanks to interviews and focus groups that involved managers», explains Gonella, «we identified the three pillars that make up the leadership model of Wind Tre: self, people and business».
As far as the context regarding self, «the leader must demonstrate qualities of stability, entrepreneurship and exemplarity». Internal characteristics which, however, must then be translated to the outside, that is brought to the team. «Our leaders must motivate their employees and give them confidence, allow them to express themselves freely and in a constructive manner and stimulate the growth of a network of relations both within and outside the company», continues Gonella. All elements where the mastery of soft skills is central.
The constructive approach of leadership also reflects on the business: «On this front, our priorities are value creation, a strong customer orientation and an aptitude for exploration and continuous innovation».

Observe, learn, innovate

The centrality attributed to soft skills is consistent with transformations underway globally, which will profoundly change the hierarchy of required job skills. Gonella himself explains this, citing the Future of Jobs Report prepared by the World Economic Forum in 2018: «If we compare the most requested skills in 2018 with those that will be most needed in 2022, we can see not only the latter ones will be all soft skills, but that the ability to learn, creativity, and originality will take on a preponderant role». This is because we forecast that in 2022 the pace of innovation and changes in scenarios will be even more rapid than they are now. «The ability to learn, but also that of knowing how to learn, putting into practice set strategies, will become even more important than omnipresent problem-solving. The leader of the future must be able to analyse critical issues while also thinking of innovative solutions. And, to do so, he will need to draw on all his learning skills», concludes Gonella.