Innovation is not a repeatable process

Can innovation be promoted through better processes? James Gardner [dead link] does not think so any more.

“I have not been able to find any regular correlation between well adopted innovation processes and actual innovation outcomes, and I’ve been looking pretty hard. And here at Spigit, we’ve got hundreds of data sets to look through.”

After a decade of looking at innovation in organizations, Gardner says that people have to be personally motivated; the old “what’s in it for me?” [WIIFM] question. “In other words, if it personally affects us, we care about it. If it doesn’t, we might care a bit, but we are much less likely to take action to change things.”

This is why I think personal knowledge mastery is so important. PKM promotes unique, individual ways of sense-making, while still sharing among peers and colleagues. In my writing on PKM for the past eight years, I have stayed away from prescriptive methods on purpose. I want every knowledge worker to discover his or her own processes. With our PKM workshops, I have seen examples of many different tools used for PKM. There is no single answer, but once you find something that works, you have a better chance of sticking with it.

I recently wrote about PKM and innovation and concluded that in order to address complex problems, businesses have to rely more on individual tacit knowledge, but this type of knowledge is never easy to convey to others. It takes time and especially trust to keep making attempts at common understanding. Accepting PKM, as a flowing series of half-baked ideas, can encourage innovation and reduce the feeling that our exposed knowledge has to be ‘executive presentation perfect’.

Workplaces that enable the constant narration of work and learning in a trusted space can expose more tacit knowledge. We can foster innovation by accepting that our collective understanding is in a state of perpetual Beta. This is how we create a culture of innovation.

Innovation is like democracy, it needs people to be free within the system in order to work. In my opinion, democracy is an essential foundation for social business. Empowering knowledge artisans to use their own cognitive tools creates an environment of experimentation, instead of adherence to established processes. I discussed knowledge artisans in my recent white paper, and what follows is an excerpt.

An artisan is a skilled manual worker in a particular craft, using specialized processes, tools and machinery. Artisans were the dominant producers of goods before the industrial era. Knowledge artisans of the post-industrial era are beginning to retrieve old world care and attention to detail, but they are using the latest tools and processes in an interconnected economy. Look at a web start-up company and you will see it is filled with knowledge artisans, using their own tools and connecting to outside social networks to get work done. They can be programmers, marketers, salespeople. Their distinguishing characteristic is seeking and sharing information to complete tasks.

Next generation knowledge artisans are amplified versions of their pre-industrial counterparts. Equipped with and augmented by technology, they rely on their networks and skills to solve complex problems and test new ideas. Small groups of highly productive knowledge artisans are capable of producing goods and services that used to take much larger teams and resources. In addition to redefining how work is done, knowledge artisans are creating new organizational structures and business models, such as virtual companies, crowd-sourced product development and alternative currencies.

Knowledge artisans not only design the work, but they can also do the work. It is not passed down an assembly line. Many integrate marketing, sales and customer service with their creations. To ensure that they stay current, they become members of various “guilds,” known today as “communities of practice” or “knowledge networks.” One of the earliest knowledge guilds was the open source community, which developed many of the communication tools and processes used by knowledge artisans today: distributed work; results-only work environments; blogs & wikis for sharing; agile programming; flattened hierarchies; and much more.

Allowing and supporting PKM, like BYOD, can empower knowledge artisans. This empowerment creates a more diverse set of skills and perspectives in the workplace. It also helps keep knowledge artisans motivated (autonomy, mastery, sense of purpose). While not directly equating to innovation, these conditions can be much more fertile ground for new ideas and many more connections. It’s rather obvious that strict command and control, or slavish adherence to cult-like methodologies like Sick Stigma, are getting us nowhere.

2 Responses to “Innovation is not a repeatable process”

  1. James Gardner

    Personal Knowledge Management: I agree with all your points. Everyone has something unique – no matter how small – that can be part of a bigger picture. It is when things emerge from such seeming chaos (as everyone’s individual perspective on things) that amazing things happen.

    Thanks for referencing my post!


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