Aug 10, 2004

Steve Denning on Innovation

Discovered Steve Denning's Blog on Storytelling and he's currently taking on the innovation gurus on how to instituionalise innovation in Organizations.

On Debra Amidon's view of having a Chief Innovation Officer, he says:

The idea is interesting, and yet one has to ask: what sort of person would
be appointed to such a position? And what sort of incentives would govern their actions? What is the likelihood that the chief innovation officer would actually tackle the rest of the hierarchy? What sort of powers would be needed to force innovation on the top management?
Is it not inevitable that a chief innovation officer would be selected in the image of the existing top management and would encourage innovations that fit the mold that the hierarchy expects – namely, tame, me-too, extensions of the existing way of doing business, not than bold disruptive revolutionary changes? Isn’t likely that this big fierce hierarchical figure, who is ostensibly supporting innovation, will use the power
of the position to channel innovation in the conventional direction, and crush disruptive innovation or rather than encourage it?
Hierarchy is good for controlling and establishing order out of disorder: it’s usually not very good at sparking heterodox ideas. Asking a hierarcy to encourage innovation is like asking a fish to fly: occasionally it happens, but not very often. Thus the people who climb the hierarchy and arrive at the senior hierarchical positions in large organizations get there because they have been good at maintaining order and focus and discipline. This is good for organizational efficiency, for organizational optimization, but inimical to innovation.

I agree with Steve, in this case you can't fight water with fire :-) The system has legacy and gravity on it's side. The Wright brothers didn't make a airplane by modelling it on the image of a carriage or steam train! Steve's fad bashing is getting interesting. He calls these theories gadget theories. I have a feeling he himself wants to concentrate on the culture and systemic workings of a firm. Let's see where this Blog develops into. Wonder how people like Gary Hamel and Christensen will react to being taken to the driers so publicly in the Blogosphere ?