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Innovation and the art of common ground

Insurrection at home and abroad, outright war in Ukraine and America ideologically at odds. Our citizens are divided by politics, religion, nationalism, and ethnicity. Happy new year!

Can we innovate our way to greater unity?

We think so. That’s part of what we’ve been doing at Idea Connection Systems for over 30 years – one community at a time. Because part of the innovation process is establishing common ground.

On the one hand, we’re all the same species and in that way, very similar. But, on the other hand, we’re also each extremely unique in how we solve problems and where we place our values.

In our Mosaic communities work, we’ve learned that the first step in innovating is organizing people into groups based on their uniqueness, pairing people who may LOOK very different on the outside but who are nearly identical in their personalities and mindsets.

By assuring we have diversity of personalities with teams of matched mindsets creative ideas move to positive change. And that is innovation.

Common ground means something everyone at the table wants, be it clean water, good schools, less crime, greater prosperity. By focusing on the needs that we all know we want, we get closer to our own emotions and grow in empathy for the emotions of others.

We’ve facilitated common ground approaches most recently in Topeka, Kansas with Topeka United, a diversity focused initiative working for inclusive community prosperity, breaking down barriers and uniting the community. Using the ISPI we’ve partnered pairs of participants each from diverse backgrounds, because while the two people appear very different on the outside, we’re able to determine their mindsets and value systems. We find that these partners usually end up becoming friends in their day-to-day lives outside the Topeka United initiative.

When all the paired partners come together with the larger task force, the unity multiplies, because we define the task with commonly shared values. The people involved forget their differences and care about each other. They feel safe to share their vision and needs. While others are inclined to help them get what they want.

It makes sense, doesn’t it? And there’s a psychological rationale.

Clinical psychologist and leadership consultant, Dr. Lily Kelly-Radford is on board with this.

“I love the concept and I do think it teaches us to be less toxic and it facilitates healing in communities and more importantly between human beings,” said Kelly-Radford. “It is my experience over 35 years that focus on common ground is certainly going to lead to a positive impact. We often assume that the conflict or differences we observe are more defining for a person.

“But people are whole people and multifaceted,” said Kelly-Radford. “When we seek to find common ground, we learn about and experience the person’s other facets and come to realize that we may have engaged in a very common ‘cognitive error’ of magnification or over generalization.

“By realizing our tendency to make cognitive errors (which most humans do frequently), we can become insightful and enter future situations using that insight and limiting the tendency to be narrow in our point of view about a person until we have further tried to see common ground.”

Finding common ground was key to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s civil rights movement. By articulating his vision on outcomes that appealed to everyone across ethnic and class lines, King demonstrated good faith with America’s stakeholders. Incrementally, progress began to be made in US race relations. King’s dream called for a kind of innovation in America’s institutions and practices.

Whether we’re bringing new products to market or changing our society for the better, defining the terms on common ground is key.



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