I’ve really appreciated the many posts where Tim Kastelle and I have connected by sharing ideas. Tim says that innovation is the process of idea management, which makes sense to me. Andrew Hargadon expands on this:
In short, innovation is about connecting, not inventing. No idea will make a difference without building around it the networks that will support it as it grows, and the network partners with which it will ultimately flourish. Here Thomas Edison’s real genius can be seen … Shifting the central activity of innovation from ‘having an idea’ to seeing and building the networks shifts the attention from thinking to the actions required to build the network that will realize the idea.
Innovation is not so much about having ideas as it is about connecting and nurturing ideas. As Steven Johnson says, “Chance favours the connected mind.” This requires a network mindset. It also requires an understanding of the greater environment.
In Innovating in the Great Disruption, Scott Anthony suggests three disciplines necessary to foster innovation in our challenging economic times – placing a premium on progress; mastering paradox; and learning to love the low end. He also discusses the importance of learning:
Innovators will need to continue to find creative, cheap ways to bring their ideas forward. Fortunately, they can tap into a plethora of powerful tools to facilitate rapid learning.
Tim Kastelle introduced me to the concept of Aggregate-Filter-Connect for innovation, which I used for personal knowledge management (network learning) and later changed it to Seek-Sense-Share. Innovation is inextricably linked to both networks and learning. That’s why the skills for learning in networks are essential for business today. We need to innovate to stay ahead in a rapidly changing world. The rules are constantly changing. Just as we get used to new business models like Amazon or Google, someone like Alvis Bigis knits together an excellent piece on how American business needs to get social. Discussing Groupon.com, he says; “Never before has a company reached $2 billion in annual revenue in just 2 years time.” Who knows what’s next?
Being an effective network learner is a basic skill for any knowledge worker today, and that’s pretty well anyone who wants to earn more than minimum wage. Network learning is also the foundation of collaboration. We know that collaboration is becoming critical for business, as Deb Lavoy notes:
Our wicked challenges [complex, entangled, multifaceted hairballs] require the diversity and experience of teams, as well as their ability to tap into and integrate new ideas and information. Our solutions will be tried and transient, keeping pace with the challenges they are meant to solve. A team with a bit of sense and technology can consistently outperform one corporate genius or the world’s most powerful computer in working through a wicked(ish) problem.
I now take for granted my network learning processes, using social bookmarking; blogging and tweeting, and these habits make collaboration much easier. However, these habits and practices have taken several years to develop and may not come easily to many workers. One difficult aspect of adopting network learning in an organization is that it’s personal. If not, it doesn’t work. Everybody has to develop their own methods, though there are frameworks and ideas that can help.
Here are some questions that network learning can address:
How do I keep track of all of this information?
How do I make sense of changing conditions and new knowledge?
How can I develop and improve critical thinking skills?
How can we cooperate?
How can I collaborate better?
Innovation & Learning
The connection between innovation and learning is evident. We can’t be innovative unless we integrate learning into our work. It sounds easy, but it’s a major cultural change. Why? Because it questions our basic, Taylorist, assumptions about work; assumptions like:
A JOB can be described as a series of competencies that can be “filled” by the best qualified person.
Somebody in a classroom, separate from the work environment, can “teach” you about a job requirement.
The higher you are on the “org chart”, the more you know.
Need I list more?