Foundations of Innovation

I love talking with my Internet Time Alliance colleagues, they’re always sparking me to new thoughts.  In our chat, we were talking about learning, and I riffed off Charles’ comment about defining learning to opine that I see learning as a persistent behavior change (in the same context).  It’s very behaviorist-influenced (given that I’m a cognitive/connectionist/constructivist type), but the point is that it needs to manifest.  Otherwise, you get what we cog types call ‘inert knowledge’, you can recite it back on a test, but when it’s relevant in the world it never gets activated!

However, it got me to thinking about individual versus group behavior.  And I realize that there were some key points I take as foundational:

  • that orgs will need innovation
  • that innovation isn’t solitary
  • thus, that improving collective innovation requires collaboration
  • and that collaboration requires culture & infrastructure

I’ve argued before about how the increasing rate of change, capability, and more mean that executing against a total customer experience is only the cost of entry, and that continual innovation will be necessary. Competitors can reproduce a product or service quickly.  Technology advances provide new opportunities to improve products, processes, and services. So, you need continual innovation (which I think of as continual learning, as problem-solving, new {process|product|service} development, creativity, research, etc are all learning).

Now, Keith Sawyer has made the point that, in general, innovation isn’t individual.  In reality, individuals build upon one another’s work continually.  Sure, one person may be responsible for an innovation, but that’s not the way to bet.  Collective intelligence is the way to get the highest and continual output.

As a consequence, collaboration is needed.  The right people need to get together in the right way to address the right problem at the right time.  If you’re not collaborating, you’re suboptimal and therefore vulnerable.  Recognize the attendant issues: you have to be willing to tolerate failure, share mistakes as well as successes, and provide time for reflection!

To do that requires the double context of a supportive culture, and a facilitative infrastructure. There have to be ways to find the right collaborators, to understand the context, to share solutions, to test and evaluate, and to impact the way things are done.  And there have to be rewards for doing so.

That’s both the opportunity and the challenge on the table, and that’s why I hang w/ my posse.  We’d love to talk with you about it.

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