August 01, 2010
The Paradox of Innovation

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My big insight about innovation these days would make Nobel Prize winner, Niels Bohr, proud.

"Now that we have met with paradox," explained Dr. Bohr, "we have some hope of making progress."

Innovation is full of it -- paradox, that is.

On one hand, organizations want structures, maps, models, guidelines, and systems. On the other hand, that's all too often the stuff that squelches innovation, driving it underground or out the door.

The noble search for a so-called "innovation process" can easily become a seduction, addiction, or distraction whereby innovation is marginalized, deferred, over-engineered, and worn like a badge.

True innovation is about allowing room enough for paradox to be a teacher and guide -- and to accept, at least for a little longer than usual, ambiguity, dissonance, and discomfort -- the age-old precursors to breakthrough.

Remember, there's a big difference between Six Sigma and Innovation.

Six Sigma is about reducing variability. Innovation is about increasing it-- and that often means allowing the kind of "messiness" that process-mavens interpret as a problem needing to be fixed, rather than a pre-condition to breakthrough and the resulting commercialization of that breakthrough that most people refer to as "innovation."

Yes, process, structures, systems are necessary, but they don't have to become overly pre-emptive. If you stay in an innovative mindset and can adapt to emerging needs, they will eventually become self-organizing when the soul of innovation is allowed to flourish.

Can we help the "innovation process" along with the right application of strategy, infrastructure, and planning?

Of course we can.

But beware! "Helping" the process too much often becomes counterproductive -- much in the same way that attempting to catch a milkweed floating through the air with a bold reach of your hand actually repels the object of your desire.

Innovation Physics 101.

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at August 1, 2010 02:24 AM

Comments

Great points,
As a management consultant. It is so important the people and organizations understand how to foster innovation. However like you point out it can be difficult, but the risk for the rewards is well worth the effort.

Posted by: Dee Gardner [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 19, 2009 10:31 AM

I agree totally that people want to reduce the variance of innovation and to have a completely predictable process, when, as you note, it is a paradox.

I also worry that with the emerging objectification of process -- largely through digital technology, and an increasing desire for predictability in life (largely due to the strides that have been made already -- e.g. having found some certainty, people want everything to be controllable), I worry that our mind for the process of exploring the ambiguous may collectively be atrophying. I wrote a post to this effect on "blue water thinking". http://www.sviokla.com/ideas/blue-water-thinking/

j

Posted by: John Sviokla [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 2, 2010 10:01 AM

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