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How leaders use Zero‐Gravity Thinkers to stimulate innovation

Cynthia Barton Rabe (Took a leave from her job as an Intel Corporation innovation strategist to write The Innovation Killer: How What We Know Limits What We Can Imagine … and What Smart Companies Are Doing about It (AMACOM, 2006). A highlight of her extensive corporate experience includes being a member of the product management team that introduced the “Energizer Bunny” marketing concept at Eveready Battery Company in 1988. She now heads the consultancy, Zero‐G, LLC based in Portland, Oregon (

Strategy & Leadership

ISSN: 1087-8572

Publication date: 1 November 2006



The paper aims to ask “Why is repeated innovation success so elusive?” The conclusion being that there is ample evidence to suggest that the hard‐won experience and best practices that were the cornerstone of past innovation success can be a hindrance on the next try.


How does an established organization simultaneously escape from and use its accumulated knowledge? The paper describes a solution which the author implemented at Intel: introducing Zero‐Gravity Thinkers to company teams looking for innovative solutions to challenges.


The paper finds that although much has been written about the innovation‐enhancing power of “outsiders” and “different thinkers”, the Zero‐Gravity Thinker role that evolved on the Intel teams had very specific traits.

Practical implications

To be effective, Zero‐Gravity Thinkers must be temporary (never permanent) team members with three characteristics – psychological distance from the team, renaissance tendencies (strong intellectual curiosity combined with an inventive/creative streak), and related expertise (knowledge relevant to the particular challenge).


The paper defines three practices leaders can use to make a collaborative effort with a Zero‐Gravity Thinker successful.



Barton Rabe, C. (2006), "How leaders use Zero‐Gravity Thinkers to stimulate innovation", Strategy & Leadership, Vol. 34 No. 6, pp. 38-43.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2006, Emerald Group Publishing Limited