Mental Models and Innovation

I recently came across my poster copy of a model of brand#, created by Hugh Dubberly as part of a concept map series — webs of linked terms that help us visualize our mental models and clarify our thinking.

At the site, I found a description of innovation cycle:

We rarely recognize innovation while it’s happening. Instead, innovation is often a label applied after the fact, when the results are clear and the new convention has become established.

The process begins when external pressure or internal decay disturbs the relation between a community and its context or environment, a relationship maintained by some convention.

The original convention no longer “fits.” Perhaps the context has changed, or the community, or even the convention. Someone notices the lack of fit. It causes stress and increases bio-cost. It creates enough friction, enough pain, to jump into people’s consciousness.

Perception of misfit almost simultaneously gives rise to proposals for change, for reframing. It creates the opportunity for insight.

Insights only move forward when shared, articulated, prototyped. Sharing is a test: Does the insight resonate with others? Proposals for change compete for attention. Most are ignored and fade away.

The changes that survive are by definition ones the community finds effective. They spread because they increase fit, because they create value.

I like the bit about rapid prototyping, testing, and iterating (implied in the write up). In the map you can also find feedback loops, the role of variety as regulator, the importance of individuals (along with groups). Being this a representation of innovation, there are multiple possible paths — deconstructed here#.

Having lived through a couple of large scale organizational changes, this resonates and helps us make sense of stories like the one I found recently in AdWeek#. Specifically, the nugget tucked in on page 2 is a useful data point to business model:

There are few media options out there with profit margins that come close to search, where creative can be automated; in fact, search and social are very different disciplines.

Peppered throughout are questions about fit, and potential tension between external pressure and internal decay.

The example is very fitting in the context of how technology has accelerated the pace of change, with related impact to the need to become more effective and not just supremely efficient. This means embracing transformation accelerated mostly by digital connections and interactions.

We refer to this movement as “digital transformation.” Every industry and discipline is being affected. As strategists and business leaders, our charter is to make sense of what is going on, identify what needs to change, and prioritize how we go about making it happen.

The premise is we are called to iterate on this model to be able to continue to keep our promises — on both ends of the spectrum, from optimization to experimentation.

More on innovation models here.


Valeria is an experienced listener. She designs service and product experiences to help businesses rediscover the value of promises and its effect on relationships and culture. She is also frequent speaker at conferences and companies on a variety of topics. Book her to speak here.

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