At the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York City, the early films of D. W. Griffith reside in a gallery adjacent to Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. MOMA's Chief Curator of Film Rajendra Roy describes the placement as an "interesting dialogue between the birth of the narrative motion picture and the birth of abstraction in painting in the same era."The juxtaposition of these two works was intentional--curated--to elicit that dialogue.

The word curation has experienced a meteoric rise in mainstream media with regards to content. An antidote to the most content-saturated time in human history, curation has come to mean extracting quality from quantity. Entire platforms have been built to curate content: Digg, Gilt Group and Flipboard to name a few.

Yet the one place the concept of curation hasn't permeated is arguably the most important: the way we talk about building teams.

What makes museum curators successful is not their ability to select an individual piece of art, but rather their ability to assemble a collection that creates unique discourse. Scott Rothkopf, curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art, explains the role as "working closely with museum collections and artists over long periods of time to create exhibitions that shape an argument."

Curators, more than anyone else, understand that the sum is greater than its parts.The same is true of building a team--or a company. It is as important to choose the right individuals for any given role as it is to assemble the right collection of people.

As the challenges we face diversify, multi-disciplinary, cross-functional teams become critical to innovation. To invent a new business model, re-design a product or imagine a new experience, you need to tap into expertise of such phenomenal range that it might seem impossible to build one team.

So why build just one?

As curators, we can build unique teams the way a museum builds unique exhibitions. Curators bring together pieces of their own museum's permanent collection alongside pieces from other museums or new artists to strengthen or diversify the discourse. Part of MOMA's founding director Alfred Barr's genius was "to put the modern mediums of film, photography, architecture, and industrial design on equal footing with painting, sculpture, drawings, and prints."To build the companies of the future, we must follow suit.

We can curate diverse teams around challenges. Bringing together external expertise with internal teams--architects, industrial design firms, science fiction writers--increases the range and depth of potential solutions. Each team, like each exhibition, is built with a clear remit and strengthened by cross-pollination.

Most importantly, curators author a story by assembling a collection of work. If we approach building teams the same way, we can find diverse skillsets and weave them into one cohesive story--a story that holistically represents the ethos of an organization. Thoughtful assembly not only invites new inspiration but also ultimately encourages the structure of the company to evolve.

But this requires a fundamental shift: viewing not only the outcome of teamwork as "shaping an argument," but the actual assembly of the team as the shaping of the argument itself. By viewing the assembly of talent as curation, we will build the teams--and the businesses--that will in turn author innovation.

Published on: Oct 13, 2014