Ripples of innovation

For me, the question "Who do you work with?" is often as vexing as the question "What do you do?" The answer to the former is the same as the latter: "It depends on the day of the week."

What is common is the ripples of innovation I am seeking to generate for those with whom I work. What is most important to me personally is that I support whoever I am working with is to breakthrough and play a different game.

The ripples of innovation concept all starts with the individual - particularly when it comes to creativity and innovation. The more innovative an individual is able to become the more innovative the people around him or her will become - mostly because that individual will encourage greater freedom of thought and action.

A couple of years ago I was asked to convene a Think Tank on Applied Innovation (for Parkinson's SA under the auspices of the Leaders Institute of South Australia). I explored a number of closed system and open system approaches to creativity and innovation and finally landed on an open systems approach (e.g., crowdsourced) to facilitating the Think Tank for Parkinson's SA.  I then researched the attributes required for individuals to be innovative - and landed on 10 attributes. The 10 identified attributes are both the responsibility of the individual 'innovator' and the leaders and organisations supporting that person to be innovative.

Following are my key findings.

Ripple #1: Individual innovation 

For individual innovation to occur, the individual needs to engage in novelty-supporting actions when navigating volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous environments. Research into individual behaviours of innovation, conducted by Ellen and Nico Martins (called An organisational culture model to promote creativity and innovation),  indicate ten key factors that influence an individual’s innovation response, including:

  1. a need to innovate;
  2. a willingness to change and take risks, and accept failure as a possibility in taking those risks;
  3. a genuine “life curiosity” and a spirit of openness to inquiry;
  4. a willingness and ability to engage in and deal with conflict from others in challenging established individual, organisational or societal norms;
  5. the importance of encouragement (from others) to generate ideas;
  6. the ability to sell good ideas to others and gain others’ engagement with those ideas;
  7. recognition from others of those ideas considered to be of immediate (and longer term) value;
  8. trust and encouragement (of self or from others) to take initiative in implementing good ideas; 
  9. timely access to resources needed to progress an idea’s implementation; and
  10. adaptability in finding new and novel ways to address idea implementation problems to maintain progress in realising the real value of an idea.


Ripple #2: Collaborative (Team and Organisational) innovation

Humans are social creatures, and our greatest achievements have been collaborative efforts, often vast ones. Creativity is a team sport.

Collaborative innovation brings together diverse groups of people to conceive, develop and deliver new ideas for addressing tricky challenges. According to Thomas Hurley and Juanita Brown, authors of the article Conversational leadership: Thinking together for a change, collaborative innovation works because it brings together people with radically different perspectives and opinions related to a shared issue and weaves these experiences together to generate new and novel ideas and concepts, which are put into use as quickly and efficiently as possible to address the shared challenge. These new and novel ideas and concepts are only identified in the group coming together and being creative together. 

Tim Brown, author of Change by design, states that when trying to solve complex problems - which we often are - you need multiple minds working together to arrive at the best solutions. Even the most brilliant person occasionally gets “stuck.” 

In working with a range of organisations and innovation teams, Brown found that individuals who became obsessed with their own ideas often were not very good at collaborating with others, which resulted in projects stalling and good ideas 

languishing. In contrast, collaborative innovation is more generous in the sharing, shaping and implementing of ideas for shared benefit.


Ripple # 3: Open (Eco-System) Innovation

According to Henry Chesbrough, author of Open Innovation: The new imperative for creating and profiting from technology, “Open innovation is a paradigm that assumes that firms can and should use external ideas as well as internal ideas, and internal and external paths to market, as the firms look to advance their technology”.

In other words, the paradigm of open innovation holds that successful innovation requires that any one individual or entity must let go of ‘controlling’ the innovation process in order to allow greater diversity, variability and novelty into that process. 

Open innovation challenges existing organisational boundaries. As an organisation and its environment become more integrated the traditional boundaries between these two contexts will become more permeable and innovations more easily transferred inward and outward.

At scale, open innovation results in multiple organisations working collaboratively (or with a spirit of collaborative competition) to share the risks and rewards of innovating. 

Post-industrial organisations of today are knowledge-based organisations with much of their success dependent on creativity, innovation, discovery and inventiveness (for additional information, refer to An organisational culture model to promote creativity and innovation). In the knowledge economy, open innovation is likely to become even more prevalent with the knowledge required for an organisation to flourish increasingly likely to reside in employees, suppliers, customers, competitors and institutions, rather than in the institutional structure.