No “I” in Team, But Two in Innovation

Doug Collins - Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The phrase “there is no ‘I’ in team” is vacuity clothed as wisdom.

The phrase’s fatuousness comes from observing a rudiment of spelling—no need for the third vowel to participate in forming the word team—in order to assert a falsehood about accomplishing goals with a group of people.

How so?

In truth, there is plenty of “I” in team: lots of individual contribution taking place in support of the group as a whole achieving its goals. Strong people make strong teams. Observing, inanely, that there is no “I” in team after people working in a group have made their own best effort diminishes everyone’s contribution.

Still, in the spirit of having fun with the English language, we might observe, too, that there are two “I’s” in innovation.

So what?

Does the spelling of innovation suggest a deeper truth about the need for deep, personal investment in the practice?

Here we find by coincidence a link between spelling and the ground truth around pursuing the practice of collaborative innovation. I refer to the collaborative innovation blueprint in order to explore the connection.


Intent is the means by which the group reaches a shared understanding of how to approach the following question:

What question, were we to pursue it together, might lead to real breakthroughs for the organization?

Organizations have an infinite number of ways to depict intent. In business, approaches such as the Balanced Scorecard, the Business Model Canvas, and the A3 come to mind. The most effective approaches help people “see the whole” by depicting intent on one page.

Where does the “I” of individual contribution come into play?

Someone must decide how to depict intent. What is the framework?

Someone must decide how to populate that intent. How do we identify what is important to us? What five things do we need to accomplish this year? Of those five, which lend themselves to inquiry, as opposed to being settled matters?

And, someone must decide where to focus the innovation efforts across the three horizons of growth that the organization manages: the core business, the emerging business, and new ventures.

An integral part of leadership is the expression of vision. Where are we going? Answering this question is an expression of personal leadership.


Forum is the means by which we convene community around the critical question.

The community can be internally or externally focused—or a combination of the two.

Where does the “I” of individual contribution come into play?

Someone must develop the guest list. Someone must extend the invitation. Someone must look beyond the usual suspects in seeking out diversity of perspective.

In turn, the decision to contribute an idea—or to collaborate on an idea—is a personal decision—an expression of leadership. Someone must go first in contributing their thinking about how best to move forward.


Process is the means by which we define a day in the life of an idea, from conception through to implementation.

Where does the “I” of individual contribution come into play?

Someone must define the process for the organization. What is the means by which we determine whether we have an idea that delivers new sources of value? How might we make space for the exploration of ideas?

Closing Thoughts

A couple weeks ago, the journalist Michael Krigsman interviewed Zach Nelson, the CEO of NetSuite. Zach offered an interesting, insightful look into how NetSuite grew into a company with close to $1 billion in annual revenues.

One of Zach’s comments, in particular, caught my attention…

When you go public the first thing Wall Street asks you is, “What’s your next engine of growth?” so we had teed up several next engines of growth. We knew they were going to work before we went public. We hadn’t told the world about them, but it was very important as we went public to have next generation ideas. In our case it was multi-company, consolidation, and e-commerce.

Relative to the observation that innovation has two “I’s,” the following thoughts occur:

Somebody within NetSuite had to initiate the dialogue around, “What is our next engine of growth? What next generation ideas do we have?”

Somebody within NetSuite had to make the case that the answer to the question was in part, “multi-company, consolidation, and e-commerce.”

Somebody within NetSuite had to execute on the software as a service around multi-company, consolidation, and e-commerce services. Executing on next-generation ideas, even within the context of a relatively young, relatively small company, is no small feat.

In reality, pursuing the practice of collaborative innovation is always an expression of personal leadership. Practices falter when they do not recognize this truth and fail to provide the venues by which people can realize more fully their potential for leadership by exploring and pursuing something new that interests them, personally.

There is plenty of “I” in team. And, there is plenty of “I” in innovation.  

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