In the 1990s, neuroscientist Kevin Dunbar set out to understand how scientific success is achieved in real life. He conducted a longitudinal study of several research laboratories and measured which laboratories could use unexpected results (inconsistencies) to create unique knowledge – a scientific breakthrough.

What he found was that the most creative laboratories were those that applied many similarities from different scientific domains to the hand problem. The only laboratory in the experiment that did not make any new discoveries where everyone had very similar and highly specialized backgrounds উপ the analogies were almost never used in this lab.

“When all the members of the laboratory have the same knowledge, when a problem arises, a group of like-minded people will not provide more information to create an analogy than a single person” – Kevin Dunbar

Dr. Dunbar’s research shows that scientific advances often occur when scientists from diverse backgrounds exchange ideas informally. In other words, creative problem solving improves teams with different backgrounds.

In a way, it’s not too surprising – it’s easier to think outside the box when your whole team doesn’t come from the same box.

Naturally, this search is highly applicable to early startups. At the Idea Generation and Validation startup stage, running a startup is half business and half science. The most important thing is to find the right product-market, and this can only happen by creating creative solutions to the problems you are facing and by testing your predictions against the market.

In a highly-predictable environment, specialization allows you to solve problems very efficiently. In an unpredictable environment, however, skill is not as important as creativity. And the environment for innovative startups is unpredictable.

For this reason, the ideal primary-level startup team should consist of people from a variety of professional backgrounds. Ideally, this means not only people from different disciplines – marketing, finance, sales, development, but also from different industries. This will allow you to use similarities from different domains, which is the key to creative problem solving.

“You have people walking around with all the knowledge of humanity on their phones, but have no idea how to put it together.” – David Epstein

In this context, the key role of founders and CEOs will be to integrate the knowledge available to the team and channel it towards creating creative solutions to the consumer problems that startups are solving.

This further suggests that when choosing your primary employees as founders, you need to consider not only their skills but also their background. Relying solely on your own professional network to find possibilities may limit your options. Your network is probably biased towards your own industry. Relying on it will create a team with similar backgrounds, which can greatly impede the creative potential of your startup.

In short, diversity is a catalyst for creativity. Choose people from a variety of domains to ensure that your early startup team is capable of solving the high-level creative challenges needed to lead an innovative project to success.

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