What if there were five or six Beatles? Would the band still have changed music forever? Maybe. Lennon and McCartney were incredible artists. But what if there had been nine Beatles? Or ten? At what point would John and Paul have been forced to compromise their creativity after being outvoted by blocs of bandmates less trusting than Ringo and George?

In the arts, it’s commonplace for small groups to work with little or no outside influence, sometimes with world-changing results. In the corporate world, however, the innovation process often operates under the notion that bigger is better. Teams and meetings expand until the potential innovation collapses by the weight of so many differing opinions and agendas. Nottingham Spirk’s founders John Spirk and John Nottingham addressed this and other innovation-killing habits they’ve witnessed over their long careers in a recent interview with The New York Times.

“I’ll tell you there’s nothing more frustrating than to sit in on a conference call, and we’ll have maybe three people on our side, and there will be 15 or 16 people on the other side of the call,” Spirk said. “The bigger the company, the more people tend to be on the call. And once we kind of figure that out, we have a talk with the company because that is no way to innovate. It just does not happen with 16 people on a weekly conference call.

“We’ll tell them that we need to narrow the team down, and get the key people involved — the ones who own the project. Not just people who are watching it, but the ones who own it. And there’s usually only two or three who truly own it.”

Nottingham added, “We’ve been to Fortune 50 companies where they had a creative session with about 100 people in the room. It gets unmanageable. People end up shutting down.”

To learn more ways companies routinely stifle innovation without realizing it, read the full New York Times interview here.

View more stories in the Winter 2013 Newsletter

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