Porous Borders – A Source Of Creative Energy

I was listening to my favorite radio station using an app on my smartphone, streaming it through a Bluetooth connection to my car speakers. The station, FIP, is broadcast in the Paris region, but through the wonders of modern technology is available to anyone who cares to listen. Of course, the commentary is in French, and it’s the comments of one of the DJs that I want to start with.

Languages are a funny thing, and translations are often amusing, sometimes downright hilarious. In this case it was the striking use of a metaphor that caught my ear. The DJ was interviewing a producer who remarked on a certain young jazz artist. He said “She flows easily across the porous border between hip hop and jazz.” It was a way of describing the artist’s ability to mix and blend the two genres into new sounds.

We all know the story of the United States as a melting pot. And, the issue of refugees seeking asylum in Europe is both heartbreaking and complex. But, even though there is ample evidence that new immigrants are a net positive to economies, it is not this political aspect of borders that came to mind as I listened to the innovative blend of music.

What came to mind was that new ideas and energy seem to thrive at boundaries. In fact, look closely and you will notice how most borders are really blurry, and how much change and creativity can be found in those regions.

Take the culinary world for example. It is driven by experimentations and blending of different cuisines. Chefs constantly dabble and blend flavors from diverse cultures. The British have embraced Indian cuisine to the point of inventing dishes that don’t even exist in India. Many dishes on the menu of a typical American Italian restaurant are Italian in name only, bearing little resemblance to the dishes of the Old Country. Yet each variation, each iteration creates a new mix that responds to the local tastes and brings a unique flavor to the world.

In business, many companies are discovering that keeping strict borders between different functions, disciplines, lines of business are getting in the way of creativity and innovation. Some companies are purposely removing borders, pushing different groups of people together in different ways to spark new ideas and new approaches. More radical yet, some organizations are reaching out to a range of stakeholders – including customers, suppliers, even erstwhile competitors – and ‘co-creating’ products and services in ways that they could never do on their own.

As I sat listening to that “radio” station halfway across the world, the jazz/hip hop fusion was indeed amazing. The artist was creating new art, passing through the porous borders of the two genres. When you are looking for creative solutions to problems, or innovative ways to delight your customers, take a close look at your organizational boundaries. You will almost certainly find new sources of inspiration in those porous borders.

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