verb [ intrans. ]
make changes in something established, esp. by introducing new methods, ideas, or products …American Heritage Dictionary
a potential within all living organisms for responding to environmental or intrinsic conditions, including change, often executed by exploratory expression or experimentation for (ultimately) achieving beneficial new individual or collective circumstances. …a personal observation
As a logical extension of the observation above, I believe innovation is a vital capability residing within every human, granted by nature. Conversely, I believe most conventional organizations oppose and defend themselves against innovation purposely, to varying degrees, through the operating designs they have in place. One does not have to be an expert to quickly assess a wide variety of ways that organizations firmly hold in place effective methods for ignoring, suppressing or extinguishing people's innovation and valuable comments. Interestingly, organizations often accomplish this risk-laden condition in an invisible, oblivious and entirely blameless manner. It is ironic that while preventing innovation, many organizations simultaneously invest significant sums to gain or add "an innovative edge" within their operations. Other organizations simply suffer while wasting time and money, and sometimes totally fail, because they refuse to allow innovation to percolate from their midst.
Everyday I witness the phenomena of energized people attempting to offer better processes or technologies, new cost-saving methods and creative ways to solve old problems to organizations. It never ceases to amaze me at the extreme difficulty they face when trying to do so. Sadly, many simply give up from exhaustion and despair. And these frustrated folks may be found working within any role throughout the organization: CEO, housekeeping, doctor, pilot, engineer, production line, nurse, teacher, CFO, supervisor, driver, COO, programmer, salesperson, etc.
I suppose this reality is the reason for a mantra that's universally repeated in organizations: "Its better to seek forgiveness than to seek permission."
Innovation is not, in a general sense, needing to be “introduced to,” “added to” or “developed in" people within or outside the organization, at least at the most fundamental levels. Rather, innovation may be first and best advanced in organizations by placing attention to ceasing, taking away or reducing everything that’s visibly resisting, subversively disabling and successfully inhibiting people’s ideas, experiments, imagination, sounding of alarms, suggestions, inspiration, opposing viewpoints and conclusions, creative discussions and vocalized alternatives to the status quo.
If you are a leader, supervisor or board member, I believe valuable innovation already is all around you, though perhaps remaining largely dormant or suppressed by your present organizational design, practices and behaviors. I am confident your workplace and marketplace is a fertile landscape. This landscape's rich soil is waiting to be seeded, cultivated and harvested by you at this very moment. There is no barren ground. The power of far better products and profits or reduced expenses, risks and liabilities for your organization is ever present, though presently languishing latent within workers', suppliers' or customers' minds. Unlimited creativity and astute, vital comments are simply waiting to be unleashed, revealed, refined and realized from the many powerful brains in your workplace and marketplace. There may be no greater waste and neglect in most organizations than failing to mine the golden ore of its untapped, massive brainpower; and ironically, few riches are so easy and inexpensive to reach, extract and translate to benefit.
Consider: everything living in nature, plant or animal, finds itself, at times, suboptimal in relation to changes in purpose or conditions within its environment. All living things respond, experiment, mutate, create, evolve and adapt. Innovation is so often positioned as illusive, mysterious and confounding in business magazines, countless books and seminars, but it happens to be a primary quality found throughout nature for the pursuit of the optimal or the response to change. Humans, in ways strikingly similar to wily bacteria and viruses, or a seemingly static douglas fir, are encoded and enabled to be constantly innovating, and to be doing so in a fine manner. That is, until these humans become dominated or restrained by organizational or social structures that repel a new idea, kill an opposing viewpoint, dismiss a comment, punish a failed experiment, ignore a contradicting observation, roadblock creativity, "table" a report of conflicting evidence, are deaf to expressions of reasonable concerns or even to the loud ringing of alarms.
We shouldn't forget: organizations are not innovative; rather, people are!
By this I mean the fountainhead of any innovative result to be found in any organization flows from the human mind. Organizations can only harvest, leverage and propel human innovation, if they so desire. Unfortunately, even in 2008, few so desire. Most organizations have been developed and maintained to be narrowly focused, such as to a charter or mission. They apply severe attention to structure, controls, influences, policies, procedures, management, leadership and constant attention to the reduction or elimination of variables. Yes, this is one reason why “change management gurus” are in many cases financially secure (…and yes, why change initiatives so often fail in fighting the forces at play). Indeed, the very word “organize” implicitly conveys a controlled social structure, or division of labor arrangement, for a distinct purpose. Organization, order and structure in this instance can be practically synonyms.
It follows that most organizations may be configured for battling against "supposed entropy," or against any form of "assumed degradation" by that which brings about disorder, chaos, contradiction, collapse, or even worse, the new. This may be why so many organizations can become fixed, hardened and hobbled by rigid conventions, "holy momentum," "policy cement" and the stasis of legacy. On the other hand, innovation in any form within an organization can be seen by some as, or in part, “a threatening emergence of disorder.” For indeed, by innovation’s nature it challenges the established, the conventional, the momentum, the policies, the legacy and the status quo.
Ah, there’s the rub!
This is not to diminish the value of present day organizations, nor the many important constructive and productive mechanisms within them. Rather this content proposes an evolution (metamorphosis?) of the today's typical organizational architecture, beginning with the widespread acknowledgement, acceptance and thoughtful response to this reality:
...people and organizations are (very) different!
This "difference" is directly relevant to bettering organizational innovation, since it can be anticipated that while it is in people’s innate nature to innovate. Conversely, most organizations prevailing today have an architecture in place to prevent their wealth-building and very survival from people’s innovation.
The design of the affiliation between organizations and people should now evolve into a new form of "relationship." Such a new form of relations would enable the organizational sum to be greater than the parts, as opposed to today's parts often being far greater that the sum (suboptimal organizational outcomes).
Here’s an analogy that may help—Immune systems are a defensive means our bodies apply to identify and protect us from things that “seem alien” and threaten our well-being. Such immune systems may be either properly “programmed” or improperly programmed. When the latter is the case, harmless, or even beneficial and important things that we need can trigger negative, violent immune system responses (such as some people’s allergic reactions to peanuts or woodland sumac). In fact, often it is our own mal-programmed immune system that can create life-threatening health problems, such as Type 1 Diabetes or transplanted organ tissue rejection.
Using this analogy, here is my premise—most organizations today have “malformed immune mechanisms” in place when it comes to innovation. Innovation, whether in the form of worker comments, viewpoints, concerns, modest cost-saving suggestions or radical ideas. The rejected source can equally beyond the organization's walls such as a customer, a supplier, a salesperson standing in the lobby or just a concerned third party. Even paradigm-shifting ideas are too often identified as “the enemy,” nuisances and distractions, or at best, annoyances of little relevance, value and priority. Such organizational immune mechanisms are operating each day in a wide variety of passive and active, subtle and overt ways. Some are incredibly simple and others are amazingly complex and systemic. I argue that the immune systems of the typical organization is presently “out of touch” or “out of balance” with the realities that surround the organization, thus it often is rejecting what it needs the most…innovation.
Perhaps the industrial revolution ushered in this “imbalance” and thus the present state of organizational programming and rules may have been more correct for “another time” in history. For example, during the industrial period organizations perfected the “labor model” as a construct to form dominant affiliation with a person. This was a “We think. You do!” theory to consistently achieve minimum, yet uniform, human performance within standardized functions that were collectively assigned to a person (aka a “job”). People were "plugged into" the production process for more the need of their body and muscle than from any contributions from their mind. Charles Taylor's work in management science in the early 1900's finished nailing this construct firmly into the workplace.
This "industrial period model," though severely outdated, prevails until this day across many workplaces, even though the workplace and related marketplace challenges, opportunities and risks have fundamentally changed. Now we sorely need every mind in our workplace, supply chains and marketplaces solving our problems, but this need arrives with many implications.
Organizations' (analogous) immune systems, do serve real and valuable purposes, for many dangers exist which merit strong and constant defenses. Nevertheless, I argue and support the need for remodeling, redesigning and reprogramming the typical organization’s immune system in order for the organization to have a far better appetite and digestion for the nourishing and beneficial ideas, comments and concerns of its entire workforce, its suppliers and its customers.
The name we use for an organization that welcomes, nurtures and sustains constructive worker, supplier and customer expression is a Creative Hive™. Such an organization may be remarkably similar to "superorganisms" that thrive in nature. By achieving this state, they tend enjoy extraordinarily positive prospects. As the name of this blog implies, bee hives are an example of a superorganism. The "distributed information management architecture" of a bee hive offers inspiration for achieving collective benefit through optimized individual expression.
A bee hive's elegant design dependably directs and supplies the requirements of their community with precision. This "interactive and inclusive architecture" attends to and regulates all life span needs, responds quickly to a wide range of environmental changes, reaches reliable decisions, directs procreation, applies specialized, succession-based work roles and even expands via "new ventures" (the swarm). By applying a tested "superorganism" blueprint developed across the ages that is based upon individual expression, bees dramatically raise the probability of both individual and community success.
Across time the authors of this blog will be sharing thoughts herein about imagining, enabling and supporting Creative Hives. We invite your comments, ideas, observations, anecdotes and expressive critical thoughts as we blaze new trails together.
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