A Critical Choice: Innovate or Stagnate?

In the knowledge economy, innovation is the Holy Grail. It’s critical to survival.

     Are you an innovator?

     Can you and your organization learn to be more innovative?

Clay Christensen, author of The Innovators Dilemma is well known for the term “disruptive innovation.” This framework describes the process by which a product or service takes root, initially in simple applications at the bottom of a market, and then relentlessly moves ‘up market’, to displace established competitors. 

Five Practices

Christensen and his colleagues have identified five practices that are common to innovators.

Associating. Connecting different factors is often a result of new experiences that bring an epiphany. Travel, volunteering, music  and reading can provoke thinking that generates creative associations.

Questioning. The constant effort of asking why…How can we improve? How can we change? This is about a healthy dissatisfaction with the status quo.

Observing. Data gathering is sensing what can be improved or changed. Watching and understanding are important features of observation. This requires a healthy curiosity.

Networking. Collecting, sifting, and sorting ideas is the focus of exchange with other people. Actively seek “mind-candy.” It’s not about social relations with people, but new thinking.

Experimenting. Toggling back and forth with new combinations of features and re-purposing are important ways to conduct trials. The more the better.

Knower or Learner?

We have come to believe that people can be characterized as “knowers” or “learners.” Learners actively seek new and better information from the world around them. They understand what they don’t know, are not afraid to explore different paradigms and they embrace innovation. Learners have nimble minds. Learners innovate, knowers stagnate.

An Innovation Culture

When assessing your workplace for an innovation culture consider these (and other) queries:

  • Are there opportunities and time for exposure to diverse disciplines, and new ways of thinking?
  • Do you and others signal a big appetite for questions about improvement and change?
  • Is reflection about what’s happening and why encouraged and routine?
  • Is there new information, heterogeneous groupings and cross-discipline work that draws on resources from inside and outside the organization?
  • What portion of work is designed, planned, executed as a test, a study or a proof?

While Christensen et.al. suggests that  disruptive innovation may require a sort of genius and rare hero-leader, we can all be a part of “incremental innovation.” It’s an intentional attitude about disciplined learning that sets the stage for important strides forward.

Lisa Wyatt Knowlton, Ed. D. is a strategy architect and partner in Phillip Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. She is also an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See : www.pwkinc.com

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