innovation in perpetual beta

The perpetual beta working model tries to show how work and learning are related as we negotiate various types of networks to get new ideas, test them out, and innovate how we work. We  seek, sense, and share knowledge in different social circumstances, sometimes with strangers and other times with close and trusted colleagues. Our social networks can help us increase our awareness of new ideas. We can test alternative models and concepts between trusted members in communities of practice, if we have the luck or foresight of being actively engaged in one. Then in our workplaces we take action on the new knowledge we have developed from our looser-knit networks.

A 2005 article on Network Structure & Innovation by Steve Borgatti defined two types of innovation networks based on the need for either individual creativity or interactive creativity. Individual creativity is what we hope to gain from our social networks.

“To maximize individual creativity, a person needs access to a diversity of skills and expertise. The relationships between the knowledge builder and the resources they draw on do not have to be unusually close. They shouldn’t be enemies or competitors (more on them later), but friendly acquaintances will do fine. All parties need to have some skill at communicating across disciplines.”

Interactive creativity requires closer relationships and affinity. This is what we hope to find in our collaborative work teams in order to get things done.

“Interactive creativity also calls for heterogeneity — it is the successful synthesis of different perspectives that creates something new. But because the interaction in this context is more intense and more important, the relationship between the people needs to be very good. In particular, they need to be able to understand each other well. This tends to mean that the participants are fundamentally similar in language and background concepts. It also means that affective elements like simply liking each other are helpful, as are good social skills.”

Borgatti goes on to show that radical innovation only comes from networks with large structural holes, which are more diverse. This is why our social networks cannot also be our work teams, or they become echo chambers. In our work teams we can focus on incremental innovation, to get better at what we already do. Communities of practice then become a bridge on this network continuum, being part individual and part interactive.

My observation over the past decade is that most organizations focus primarily on incremental innovation and do not allow time and resources to be expended on social networking activities that are officially perceived to be frivolous. This is a major error in a time of rapid technological change. The triple operating system, upon which the perpetual beta working model is based, shows how strong networks and temporary hierarchies need to be connected by learning while working, and sharing knowledge freely.

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