Feb 11, 2009

The paradox of innovation



Life is a paradox. When a slowdown occurs people and organizations view in a linear fashion their own self interest. Quit spending. Hunker down.

Even though they cognitively (perhaps) know that the other kind of behavior, that probably leads to failure as much as success is what is needed. That's because while we yearn for yes and no, binary thinking, life's questions are probabilistic.

As Bob Sutton says :

U.C. Davis Professor Dean Keith Simonton, who has spent much of his career doing long-term quantitative studies of creative genius,  has concluded that a high failure rate is a hallmark of creative geniuses -- he concludes that the most creative people -- scientists,  composers, artists, authors, and on and on -- have the greatest number of failures because they do the most stuff.  And he can find little evidence that creative geniuses have a higher success rate than their more ordinary counterparts; they just take more swings at the ball. Check out his book Origins for Genius , perhaps the most complete review of research on the subject.

Hmm that sounds a lot like motivating someone for deliberate practice .

As I have posted earlier there are more paradoxes at work when it comes to innovation:


In fact in the first half of the innovation process is all about the things that large organizations are allergic to. It's about messy, chaotic, instinctive and insightful idea generation. It calls for suspending judgement. It even calls for suspending action orientation. That is not a role for management people. This is the part of the innovation process that is best done in startups, without too much analysis, or in pods away from the mother ship (skunkworks for example).

The management part of organizations comes into play in the convergence of ideas. This is when 'traditional' management and decision making skills come into play. Trade-offs need to be made, analysis needs to be done on feasibility, ideas need to be tangibilised into execution.

It will not be an exaggeration to say that philosophically, these two parts of the innovation process are directly in a state of tension with each other. The people who do one part well, resent the activities done by the other part. There is a feeling that ideas are superior and execution is inferior. However, as Bossidy and Ram Charan state in their book Execution, it's the implementation that makes the difference.

A little bit like yin-yang I suppose.