The growing expectations to public services and the pervasiveness of wicked problems in times characterized by growing fiscal constraints call for the enhancement of public innovation, and new research suggests that multi-actor collaboration in networks and partnerships is superior to hierarchical and market-based strategies when it comes to spurring such innovation. Collaborative innovation seems ideal as it builds on diversity to generate innovative public value outcomes, but there is a catch since diversity may clash with the need for constructing a common ground that allows participating actors to agree on a joint and innovative solution. The challenge for collaborative innovation – taming the snake in paradise – is to nurture the diversity of views, ideas and forms of knowledge while still establishing a common ground for joint learning. While we know a great deal about the dynamics of the mutually supportive processes of collaboration, learning and innovation, we have yet to understand the role of institutional design and leadership in spurring collaborative innovation and dealing with this tension. Building on extant research, the article draws suitable cases from the Collaborative Governance Data Bank and uses Qualitative Comparative Analysis to explore how multiple constellations of institutional design and leadership spur collaborative innovation. The main finding is that, even though certain institutional design features reduce the need for certain leadership roles, the exercise of hands-on leadership is more important for securing collaborative innovation outcomes than hands-off institutional design.