Are Your Ideas Having Sex?

By Bryan Klopack

September 24, 2012

Now that I have your attention…let me give you a bit of setup.

I am training for a marathon. In general, a stupid thing to do. Not training, but running a marathon in the first place. I’ve done it before and for some reason have chosen to do it again. Regardless, my favorite strategy to occupy my mind while on long weekend runs is to download a few TED podcasts and expand my horizons. If you are not familiar with TED, you should be. TED is an international event with videos  devoted to ‘ideas worth spreading.’

That said, I couldn’t help but laugh out loud when Matt Ridley, author of The Rational Optimist, introduced the notion of ‘ideas having sex’ during TEDGlobal 2010. Through extensive psychological research, paired with historical and economic analysis,  Ridley provides a compelling case for collaboration.

“You need to understand how human beings bring together their brains and enable their ideas to combine and recombine, to meet and, indeed, to mate,” explains  Ridley. “In other words, you need to understand how ideas have sex.”

As the Director of the Government Business Council, I have conducted several studies on collaboration, transparency, and breaking down agency silos. Too often, I have heard in surveys and focus groups that some leaders put up false barriers between and even within agencies. These barriers, whether masked behind the cloak of security, protocol, or good ole’ inter-agency politics, prevent the creation of an environment that allows for ideas to mate – for authentic collaboration.  

In my mind (now remember, I listened to this while running on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., passing by stately USDA buildings on Independence Avenue…and fighting the urge to stop and turn around), the hypothesis tested by  Ridley begs the question - does your manager encourage your ideas to have sex? I would argue that the collective brain of the federal government is a brilliant one. So, to belabor a cheesy metaphor, is your boss your idea pimp? Are you encouraged to court your ideas with colleagues and experts within and across your agency? Can you take your ideas to make-out point with state and local government officials – or private sector and NGOs in your field?

“Throughout history, the engine of human progress has been the meeting and mating of ideas to make new ideas. It's not important how clever individuals are,”  Ridley says, “what really matters is how smart the collective brain is.”

To engage in some careful mating, here are some questions to consider inspired by a Harvard Business Review story entilted "Are You a Collaborative Leader?"

1.       Be a Play Global Connector

2.       Engage Talent at the Periphery

3.      Collaborate at the Top First

4.      Show a Strong Hand

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(Image via Lightspring/

By Bryan Klopack

September 24, 2012