To innovate is to NOT conform

How do we innovate well?

We live in a triangular (People, Process, Technology) world.

Innovation in the Technology corner is perhaps easier than innovation elsewhere. But, even technological innovation inevitably touches People and Process.

Thus, innovation is fundamentally a confrontational activity.

Innovation invites hostilities.

Who We Are

We are products of the societies and the cultures in which we grow up. During our first few years our minds and most of our beliefs are strongly shaped. Thus, there are many willing and able groups queueing up to help shape us.

A bit overly dramatic, this is?
Well, let's hear it first-hand from two such groups.

Firstly, and fairly benignly - when compared the our second quote - we have the well-known Jesuit maxim (originally, apparently, from Aristotle):

“Give me the child for the first seven years and I'll give you the man”

Secondly, we have the following from Johan Gottlieb Fichte:

“Education should aim at destroying free will, so that, after pupils have left school, they shall be incapable, throughout the rest of their lives, of thinking or acting otherwise than as their schoolmasters would have wished.”

Johan Gottlieb Fichte?

Who cares what a guy named Fichte, whom no-one has heard of, said?

Well, you may be surprised to learn that Fichte was describing a successful German/Prussian education system that then found its way into the American system, to the point where the Wikipedia article about the General Education Board states that their philosophy was:

"In our dream, we have limitless resources and the people yield themselves with perfect docility to our molding hand … We shall not try to make these people or any of their children into philosophers or men of learning, or men of science. We have not to raise up from among them authors, editors, poets or men of letters. We shall not search for embryo great artists, painters, musicians … The task we set before ourselves is very simple as well as a very beautiful one, to train these people as we find them to a perfectly ideal life just where they are … So we will organize our children into a little community and teach them to do in a perfect way the things their fathers and mothers are doing in an imperfect way …"

Rather than outlining how all this came about, we'll point you to this YouTube video which tells the story.

What Shapes Us?

Whether we like it or not we are shaped by education, religion and other components of 'culture'. The indoctrinations of school and life blind us to this.

We also covered this truth when we bemoaned the tendency for outperforming companies to revert to the cultural mean.

How We Do Things Around Here

Companies that are not innovating are also shaped by culture; a culture that includes 'this is how we do things around here'.

Innovation will not happen (or not succeed, if it does happen) in such environments. Innovative rebels (or apostates to the corporate cultural 'religions') are worked out or subdued.

Now, one will struggle, of course, to find anyone that supports 'this is how we do things around here' statements. Of course we don't?

Yet, we often push back to overt such statements, but cannot identify covert such cases. Our backgrounds prevent culprit identification.

Let's look at examples:

We have rituals such as Standard Operating Procedures, Processes, Service Level Agreements, Change Control, and many more. Our world will simply not operate without these constructs. Each of these are crucially important. Without these chaos will reign.

Furthermore, our schooling and our cultures have shaped us to understand the importance of certain ways of doing things. We recognise the virtues.

We support these rituals and we build careers from these ways in which "we do things around here". We become blind (or indifferent) to their vices (or limitations).

For innovation, and for outperformance, though, these are 'devils-in-disguise'. None of these approaches help you to do something differently or help you do a different thing. They kill innovation.

The Battle

When we try to drive innovation we thus have to fight these cathedrals of common sense. We have to fight proven success. We have to fight those who have the successes of these holy corporate sacraments as their primary goals.

If you want innovation in your organisation (and why on earth would that not be the case), you need to understand that there is thus this hidden barrier that only very unreasonable people will be able to break down or jump over.

So, as a leader, you have to find ways to help remove the barriers to the right ideas at the right time.

The Game Plan

There really are ways to make innovation possible.

The answers are in milieu-recognition, proper strategy building, innovation hub creation, venture-based approaches, hyper-agile processes, risk appetite calibration and more.

That Man Fichte Again

How do we innovate well?

A thesis is a premise to be maintained. Yet, an antitheses (to that thesis) is often a sub-optimal alternative. The real value (and best innovation) is more likely to be found in a synthesis.

This thesis-antithesis-synthesis approach is analogous to the dialectical method which is closely connected to the philosopher Hegel. Thus, Hegel is often credited with creating the thesis-antithesis-synthesis concept.

Not so.
Fichte was the originator of that concept.
(See the "Modern Philosophy" section).