How to Practice a Culture of Innovation

Independent thought and rate of change


“Creation is the most valuable part of learning,” says Dave Perell#. Getting started is key. You could remix or re-frame ideas. Remixing paves the way to learning. Re-framing ideas is a useful cultural practice to take them further.

    This has been a positive outcome of the web — facilitating serendipity and providing access to people (almost) anywhere in the world.

    A creator mindset enriches interactions. When we move with the movement of ideas, we gain momentum; when we resist it, we get stuck.  

Cultures embrace and resist change

    Our thinking is often the product of mainstream culture. Culture and cultural signals or norms influence us greatly. Cultures are designed to both embrace and resist change, based on compatibility, readiness, and speed.

    When the rate of cultural change is non existent, the tribe provides the cultural context. In this environment, individual thinking is not seen as useful. Organizations used to be very homogeneous. Even with the broad adoption of social media, there's little variance, except across departments. But silos block serendipity.

    Individual thinking is not prized on the other end of the spectrum, when the rate of change is maximum. In an increasingly complex and changing world, we go with the flow to fit in and manage uncertainty as if it were risk.

    Eamonn Kelly and Steve Weber say there's a delicate balance between risk and uncertainty in a changing world#. They say that businesses today need to balance avoiding the downsides of risk and embracing its opportunity.

    Value is beyond incremental improvements. They say:

The world has always been a complex and uncertain place from the perspective of anyone trying to create value over time. But without inappropriately flattening out the past and indulging in the fantasy that the “good old days” were simple and straightforward, we should acknowledge the obvious fact that business today is indeed faster-moving, more interconnected, increasingly global, and both bigger and broader than it has ever been. Moreover, competitive pressures frequently lead to radical changes in our business models and ultimately generate unanticipated problems.
As the pace of change accelerates, many executives have the very understandable feeling that uncertainty and risk are increasing at a faster rate than is quantifiable and manageable.

    Organizations typically pay attention to their internal and market environments, and less attention to “the world of political dynamics, economic growth, technological development, social and demographic shifts and changes in the physical environment.”

    These external factors are a blind spot. Yet they're a useful context to explore for innovation. Unanticipated problems can create the opportunity to try new ideas.

    We should learn to distinguish between uncertainty and risk. Because it will help us understand how the dynamic nature of risk has changed our work.

Problem-solving is the test ground of innovation

    All the easy problems are taken. Problem-solving now involves few certainties and right answers. But there's never been a more prolific context for finding new problems to solve due to the rapid change we're experiencing in so many industries.

    This has been going on since 1944. In On Living a Revolution Julian Huxley says:

“Whereas at the beginning of this period (300 years ago ) the rate of new discovery and invention was such that the digestion of a major change extended over the better part of a century, it has steadily increased until the process of digestion must now be accomplished within a decade. 

This is something new in history. The better part of a century is a long human life-time, and within that span, adjustment both personal and social is comparatively easy. 

When the time available for digestion of a change is reduced to a single generation, then, though individual adjustment is more of a problem, social adjustment is still not too difficult. 

But once the rate of major change has overtaken the rate of social reproduction, and is down to a half or a third of a generation, a new and formidable problem is introduced. The individual himself is asked to recast his ideas and his attitudes once or even twice within the space of his active working life.”

    [h/t Peter] The accelerated speed of change has vast implications. With Artificial Intelligence (AI) and automation now coming for our cognitive jobs#,  we need to reinvent our professions to cooperate with machines, rather than merely cope.

    By far the most challenging aspect of this rate of change problem is that we're also called to rebuild our identities. Each of us seemingly sits alone on top of a mountain of everyday decisions and actions for which there are no easy answers.

The upside

    There's an upside to the discomfort of individual change and reinvention imperative. One that sits in the middle between social thought with public distribution and private thought with individual challenges.

    Networks of collaboration are the business equivalent of community building in the social sphere. They provide us with a cross-skilled group gathered around a project. This construct creates a mechanism to build momentum and protect individual thought at the same time.

    Instead of fighting or adapting to the disruption brought about by innovation, cross-skilled groups accelerate it to get on the other side. The group dynamics that engage with collaboration facilitate a cultural shift where independent thinking has value.

    Distributed networks are also more resilient. Many organizations have spread their risk across the globe — diverse suppliers, partners, customers, and new ideas and processes are all opportunities to remix and re-frame business practices.

    We've known about the necessity to revolutionize ourselves since 1935. In The Harvest of Victory, Esme Wingfeld Stratford says:

“Life is the adaptation of creature to environment. 

In the pre-human past the tempo of that adaption has been limited, so that a revolutionary change in the environment has always meant the death to the species. 

Man, in the Machine Age, has contrived to revolutionize his own environment – an unprecedented feat. The crucial question is whether with discourse of reason will enable him to perform the equally unprecedented task of revolutionizing himself. 

Failing that, his civilization, and possibly his species, are doomed, if only for the reason that the energies he has succeeded in exploiting are incomparably swift and potent to destroy than to benefit, and if not controlled by adequate intelligence, will inevitably do so.

    Coping strategies, while useful, don't provide significant and sustained advantage. It's more useful to open up and listen, to create our way into the future, building on networks of ideas and people.


[more book recommendations here]

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