I was reading an article on the BCS Blogs today about innovation, and whether it is a process or culture piece. It made me reconsider some of the work I am doing and its relationship to a “Creativity, Innovation and Change” course that I did as part of my MBA study. The field of innovation and how to encourage and manage it is rich picking for academics and consultants alike.
It is such a wide and varied field that I find it fascinating, some rich pickings that I’ve appreciated or used recently include:
My current “best bet” for considering innovation and how to encourage it, however, is based in the concepts of chaos theory. Chaos theory starts with the idea of complex systems being built of large numbers of independent actors communicating actors. The individuals adjust how they respond in response to their environment, their goals and the demands placed on them. There is no simple rule that says take “A” action and the result will be “B” when dealing with this sort of system. Action needs to be framed as adjustments in the environment, rules and goals of the individuals and then the result continuously examined to see what it achieved. The adjustment is then iterative in nature.
To bring this back to the original question, therefore: Is innovation culture or process based? How do we best encourage and profit from innovation at an organisational level? The best advice would seem to be to assume that it is both. The creative climate of the organisation will influence how people behave, and will the rules and processes that are in place which constrain or enable individuals to act. Thus, to be innovative in the long term you need to have a mindset of making sure that people are encouraged to question: Why do this? How else might it be done? Who else might have done this sort of thing, and how did they approach it? How might new technology change what we want to do? The list goes on.
Once people come up with ideas then if they are to become innovations for a company then they must have the tools available to them to take it forwards, and especially to find other people in the or outside organisation that can help. In time, if an organisation really does want innovations, then they will have to find ways to adapt the mindset, rules and drivers of the organisational environment so as to encourage rather than discourage innovation. There are lots of techniques and ideas for approaching this. It is important to remember, however, that you are dealing with a chaotic system – beware unexpected outcomes.