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03/06/09

An inbuilt mechanism for innovation: organic & ecological

Over the last few months I have presented, to audiences in India, Singapore, US, and UK the following 2 columns, and asked them a simple question: Which set of words do you like as a human being? The ones on the left or right? What about your preference?

Prescriptive Process

Self Organized

Brittle

Configurable

Mandated

Voluntary

Closed, Static

Open, Dynamic

Inertia, Detached

Energy, Passion

Compartmentalized

Social

Isolated

Connected

Well, by and large — everyone prefers the right hand side. When asked why – people respond by saying these words are more positive because they provide a feeling of freedom while the ones on the left feel claustrophobic. Now isn’t that a surprise? Well, I’m not trying to be totally facetious here, but why is it that we rollout organizational interventions that feel more like the left side. Often, we roll out company level strategies, initiatives, policies, and systems that are more prescriptive, brittle, mandated, compartmentalized, etc. We design our systems as if we were still in the industrial age, where machines are the central unit and important means of production, and humans are part of the peripheral support structure. So too, then, becomes our approach to Knowledge creation and Innovation when using such mental models. The inherent drive is then towards creating a factory-like approach driving towards efficiencies and economies of scale.

Now if we believe that knowledge creation and innovation is largely a human and social act, and very importantly, if we believe that such acts are voluntary and self-determined, then strategically we have to pay a lot of attention to the words on the right hand side. The strategy then becomes one of creating an overall environment and ecosystem, whereby constituents of the ecosystem are effected by it and in turn effect the ecosystem. Then innovation becomes a way of being because of an alignment in value system, purpose and meaning of existence in the ecosystem, and overall interdependence of parts of the ecosystem that form a mutually supportive architecture. This creates an indirect way of bringing in human behavior and action, but is much more sustainable because it is intrinsic to people that exist in it and hence to the organization.

Further, as long as evolution of the ecosystem is inherent in its architecture, it adapts more quickly to the pace of change, whether internal or external. In short, the knowledge enterprise is more like an organism ready to sense and respond. The global knowledge economy is increasingly bringing about an accelerated pace of change and a strategic need for rapid and intelligent decision making. In such a scenario, you cannot have a small think-tank at the top keeping track of everything and rolling out initiatives constantly. The need to adapt and evolve in a self-organized manner becomes essential and immediate. In such a case, the knowledge ecosystem should be considered as a primary model of organization design, augmented by a factory model in places where efficiencies and economies of scale can be achieved. At a canonical level, the constituent would be the human, all inclusive with its values, its creative and rational mind, its social nature, and ability to interact and effect its environment.

If we wanted an inbuilt sustainable mechanism for continuous innovation, we need to think of organization design in the form of an organic ecosystem. I look forward to some reactions to this, and will respond, write further and expand on this over the next few weeks and months.

Regards,
Raj

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