I don’t know if you’ve had the chance to watch Steven Johnson’s TED talk on “where good ideas come from” (or read his book, I haven’t done the latter…yet) but he brings in some very interesting perspectives on creativity and innovation. He first explains how in our common vocabulary, we portray ideas as a single thing (by using concept like: Eureka or Epiphany) while in fact, an idea is really network of many ‘hunches.’ Individual hunches come together with other hunches to create a bigger hunch – a big idea. While this can refer to a network of hunches (neurons) coming together in one’s brain, it can also refer to people bouncing ideas/hunches of each other to create a bigger one. This suggests organizations need to encourage connectivity, whether internally or externally, and it is evident that many businesses are doing just that. Throughout my research, I’ve come across models for connectivity in many different forms. Companies can adopt open innovation models like P&G has done, successfully, with its Connect & Develop model. Or they can use crowd-sourcing like IBM did with its Innovation Jam. They can also opt for participatory design where consumers contribute to designing the product (or service) they want. Fresh of the press is the example of a company using Facebook as a platform to recruit its customers to design a handbag (http://www.springwise.com/fashion_beauty/kisim/). Internal social network platforms are also making an entry in certain organizations to encourage employees to share ideas, connect and communicate.
But all of these are merely tools in a wider innovation strategy. Can internal social networking replace good old face-to-face congregating and brainstorming? Probably not. Furthermore, open innovation can be seen as one person I interviewed described, a “lazier” option for innovation – a ‘quick-fix’ to building true internal capabilities and lasting relationships with stakeholders who can help the innovation process (though to me, that also counts as ‘being connected’). While crowd-sourcing can bring in too many viewpoints which can muddy the waters, and trying to stifle that kind of defies the whole point of connecting with different people. And let us not ignore the intense resources, time – effort, funds, man-hours – required to filter through the pile of ideas (or hunches) these types of models can bring. I’m also wary of getting ‘too many ‘viewpoints’ in innovation for sustainability where there is still so much to be learned and developed; where trade-offs between different issues are constantly made; and where people are often quick to judge.
These different types of models cannot (nor are they necessarily intended to) replace a genuine internal organic innovation capability. But what does this capability look like? An innovation ‘culture’, like some may say Google holds, is not easy to grasp. It’s a mix of how people within the company behave (and how they are encouraged to behave), the type of leadership, the tools and processes adopted and the type of structure the organization has. And this is likely to look different from company to company. There is no one size fits all. And there is no secret recipe. There’s an argument both for process-driven innovation and for organic innovation – what’s needed is probably somewhere in between and it’s up to each company to decide what works best.
Here’s a link to Steven Johnson’s TED talk: http://www.ted.com/talks/steven_johnson_where_good_ideas_come_from.html
And here’s a similar discussion but with awesome graphics: http://www.fieldnlptraining.com/video-where-do-good-ideas-come-from/