In this series of three articles Paul Hobcraft explores the value of knowledge and education for innovation. Concluding the discussion, in part three the author reviews faulty innovation practice and argues in favor of recognizing innovation as a value enhancing and organizational life-changing event we need to move towards increasingly.

How are we going to engage more people within the innovation process – how to get these individuals “doing”? After all, we learn far more and gain added experience when we are actively tackling a task. Still, organizations are always, it seems, consciously or unconsciously reducing the experimental part to any person’s learning.  We need to reverse this and encourage the surveying of new skills, the gaining of new experiences and probing of established rules to value them. We might also challenge and push them. Innovation is certainly not a friend to rules, established protocols and traditions. ‘It’ looks to attract the diverse opinions, the people willing to speak up and become heard as it is these people that observe and feel when (and if) something can be changed.

Coupling, uncoupling and recoupling in complex systems

Innovation is a complex system where the coupling, uncoupling and re-coupling of technology, design, product, organization, art and science, to name just a few of the parts that need to constantly engage for worthwhile things to happen, is important to recognize.

By encouraging experiences you ‘form’ less and ‘allow’ more to evolve…

Organizations have real difficulties with this ‘fluid need’ – or allowing innovation to evolve as a natural tendency; they often attempt to ‘file away’ something that can be related too much within the experiences. This is why encouraging enquiry is so important. By encouraging experiences you ‘form’ less and ‘allow’ more to evolve before you make the final judgement. All in all, innovation needs to remain ‘fluid’ for as long as possible – usually until the final commercial ‘freeze’ when the aforementioned experiences emerge as a combination new to the world.

We can also come back to the intrinsic nature of innovation. It needs different resources, skills and knowledge to come into play. It is this very diversity of opinion, that, if allowed, gives us the chances of advancing innovation and achieving a more radical solution. Perhaps we ‘promote’ incremental innovation far more than we realize because we don’t go out and engage in broader communities due to not having the time, the inclination or the understanding of the real value of this action. One other reason is because we are simply not encouraged to do so. Hence my argument: we need a clear innovation knowledge exchange structure in place – one that has an effective absorptive capacity.

Openness and convergence

All the well-argued aspects of open innovation aside (e.g. “all knowledge does not reside in one place”), the more we interact, cooperate and network, the more we share knowledge. A frequent regret nowadays, though, is that the discussion ‘brief’ is getting tighter and tighter so as to speed up conversations and decision-making. The faster we use targeted searches and ‘lock-in’ solutions, the more we ignore weaker signals that are out there and overrule even greater innovation opportunity. In other words, we chose to push past these weak signals due to a often ‘hard’ metric – namely, that we work strictly on the ‘brief’ unless we simply trip over something so blindingly better.

Although we are certainly evolving, the more we open up, the more we do need to add slack time to explore. We are in danger of losing this opportunity in our focused intents. Open innovation will not yield all it can promise if we don’t allow for more open knowledge exploration that might be out of the ‘norm’ but still within the parameters of what we are wanting to achieve – innovation that offers compelling competitive advantage – and we often can’t achieve that if we remain blind to those ‘weak signals’ that knowledge exchange that is encouraged to recognize, value and assimilate.

The dangers lurking in innovation

We all speak of enhancing innovation capabilities but it can be both competence-enhancing and competence-destroying elements that we mean. We build on “preferred” routes to enhance our existing capabilities as this is traditionally viewed as the way to become ‘competitive’. Actually, the very opposite can and does happen. Significant breakthroughs, changes in conditions, markets or technologies leave us increasingly unprepared. More and more disruption is occurring and with this increasing obsolescence.

We need to acquire entirely new skills not the ones layered on pre-conceived ideas and practices, but the ones that promote new “fields of activity”. We need more intensive thinking processes that explore the emerging new edges of innovation management.

A great example of new fields of activity is MIX

A real valuable example of this is the work taking place within the Management Innovation  eXchange (MIX) – an open innovation project aimed at reinventing management for the 21st century. The premise: “while “modern” management is one of humankind’s most important inventions, it is now a mature technology that must be reinvented for a new age”. This is a meeting place where The MIX is designed for all those who are frustrated by the limits of our legacy management practices. It’s for all the inspired thinkers and radical doers who believe we can — and must — find alternatives to the bureaucratic and dis-empowering management practices that still rule most organizations.

“The MIX represents a pioneering attempt to use the open innovation model to help accelerate the evolution of a critical social technology — its management. Rather than struggling in isolation to reinvent the processes and practices of management, MIX members can leverage the expertise and insights of a global community of like-minded innovators. The success of the MIX hinges on the willingness of its members to share their ideas and experiences, which depends in turn on a belief that more can be gained by sharing than by hoarding. Truth is, there’s a lot more management innovation going on in the world at large than in any particular organization. Thus the MIX gives every progressive management innovator the chance to share a little and learn a lot”.

Learning favours the brave

To sum up, we certainly need to educate the organization more than ever. Innovation within the organization needs not just greater recognition of its vital parts, but also of its status as a value enhancing and organizational life-changing event that we need to move towards increasingly. Innovation needs to be recognized as a clear discipline, a new expertise that is as powerful as Marketing became some decades ago.

The more we embrace change and recognize innovation demands more of our time, the more we seek out knowledge that ‘feeds’ innovation. And the more we ‘push’ for learning, the greater chance we have of thriving in a challenging world.

The expectation ‘bar’ needs to be raised and those practicing innovation, need to change their game. Learning and Education always should start at home. The earlier we learn, have open interactions and form linkages, the more we will be ready to advance innovation into what it must become: a discipline highly valued for what it contributes with in terms of wealth and growth potential.

We need to find the determination to underpin the capacity for innovation, lying within us all, and that comes from knowledge and education through collaborative learning. So what is your capacity for innovation really like?

By Paul Hobcraft

About the author:Paul HobcraftI simply enjoy researching innovation, applying this to provide novel solutions and advice, coaching and consulting to individuals, teams and organizations through my business, Agility Innovation Specialists. As an advisory business we aim to stimulate and deliver sound innovation practice, researching topics that relate to innovation for the future, as well as align innovation specifically to organizations core capabilities.I write and contribute different views on innovation and its management through my own blog, and contribute into the different and leading providers of innovation knowledge.

More in this seriesPart One: The Role of Education and Learning for InnovationPart two: The Real Value of Knowledge Exchange

Part three: Reducing Confusion, Promoting Diffusion