Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Defining Innovation

Innovation, innovate, innovator, innovant, innovative, innovatory, renovate, novation, these are but a few forms of the central concept within innovation - nova. Nova is Latin but it originates from the Indo-European neuos. Neuos meant new or now. Nova was a word that referred to "a star that bursts upon the sight" according to Shipley in The Origins of English Words. In Origins, Partridge uses the phrase, "a temporarily new star". Webster's New Universal Unabridged Dictionary goes one step further in defining nova - "A star that suddenly becomes thousands of times brighter and then gradually fades to its original intensity." This is of course true for innovations as well. Innovations have a life cycle.

Innovation has a prefix and a suffix. The prefix in- has its roots in the Indo-European word en. En meant in, within or into. My guess is that its use in innovation implies that what is shining comes from within. The suffix -ion is used to note action or condition. This may be the root of one of the confusions about the use of the word innovation. It refers to both result and the result's way of becoming, how it came into existence.

Roget's International Thesaurus provides a structure for words in the English language, a system of inter-linked concepts. The concepts for innovation that they list are change, departure, novelty and originality. All forms of innovation are change, result in change, or take advantage of change, and may be the result of change within the person or organization. Originality seems to me to refer to what we call breakthrough change. Novelty seems to refer to what I call distinctive change. And, departure seems to refer to incremental change.

Innovation and creativity are often confused, and probably for good reason. Creativity comes from the Indo-European root ker, a prolific root. Shipley lists seven major groups of words that come from ker taking seven and one half pages to describe. He states that creativity comes from he sixth group in which ker means to grow. The Greek word khorus comes from that root meaning youth. And, the Latin goddess of growth was Ceres. Derivatives in this root have the implication of “springing forth”. Cereal, increment, and creature also follow this root. Three of the other seven groups have related meanings – bend, move, turn around; cut, pluck, gather; and harm, destroy.

Picasso understood the later concept when he wrote, “Every act of creation is an act of destruction.” We grow physically only by the destruction of other living things (Joseph Campbell calls this the original sin.) We convert one form of living thing into another allowing us to grow.

Partridge leans heavily on the Latin root creare – to produce, cause to grow, to come into existence. He also points out that this same root leads through procreare to procreation, the physical acts of conception and birth, hence creature.

Dictionary definitions and common usage confuse the issue even more, especially in art, as a work of art is created – not only the idea but the implementation.

Another related concept is ingenuity. It come from the very prolific Indo-European root gn. This root goes right to the core issue, the generative. It has come to mean clever, original, inventive, and resourceful.

Shipley states that gn (or gen) has two meanings that are intertwined – to beget and to know. Words like generate, genitals, generation, gender, and pregnant have to do with begetting. Through the Greek, gn became gnosis, knowledge, and our congnition, prognosis, diagnosis. Through Latin we get ignore, ignorance. Through the Germanic gn became kn and ken from which we get kin that are the result of kindling, and of course knowledge.

Shipley writes, “The association of these two sets of meanings in the one root shows the early sense of their essential unity: knowledge is power; to know how; to produce; to ken, to kindle. Savoir pour prevoir pour pouvoir is the neat French wording: to know, to figure ahead, to function. One may speculate that the notion of ‘knowing,’ the self examination it involves, and the need for a word to name it arose in human consciousness at about the same time men grew aware of the tie between copulation and conception. (conception and conceive, in later Latin, took the same dual application, genital and mental) I think therefore I am. I know, therefore I can. Again from the French (Paul Claudel): Naitre, pour tout, c’est connaitre. Tout naissance est un connaissance: To be born is to come to know. All birth is wakening to knowledge.”

Information is perceived and judged by humans in four forms – noise, data, knowledge or wisdom. To extract data from noise requires human creativity. To interpret, synthesize, analyze, summarize, and otherwise give meaning to data, i.e. turn the data into something of value that is actionable, produces knowledge, a process that also requires creativity. Wisdom results for the creative assimilation of knowledge gained from years of experience gained personally and from others.

Innovation at its core is all about information, usually data or knowledge. And, we have four methods of innovating – discover, invent, adapt, and adopt. We can adopt an innovation in a new setting where it becomes new again. We can adapt an existing innovation into a new application. We can invent, which strictly means combining existing information to new ways. Or, we can discover new information through searching deliberately. Sometimes in our deliberate search we uncover information of importance to another innovation. Explorers discovered new lands and peoples, and in the process discovered much additional information.

Often the connation for creativity is the creation of something that never existed before. This is unfortunate because in reality all purposeful human creativity, and thus innovation, is based on existing information. At the time of the creation of the universe, by what ever model you ascribe, the information clock starting running and the information gets more complex with the passage of time. We build on the information that has been discovered, invented, adapted or adopted before us.

Now the exception to the above is an accident. In genetics, we have the fortunate, and sometimes unfortunate, circumstance that genetic accidents occur. If the genetic accident is favorable, it may get integrated into the information that generates that life, i.e. DNA, and hence gets propagated through generations. The same thing can happen with creativity and innovation.

This is the hundred monkey parable – a hundred monkeys in a room with keyboards, eventually something useful is typed. Even if you did this, it would still take a human to read everything until something useful was discovered. The information produced in this fashion looks like noise.

This is not a useful methodology for innovation, although some use it as an argument against funding innovation – it’s unpredictable both as to significance and timing. In most cases however, the observation about innovation is correct – its timing and significance is unpredictable. But this is not caused by the hundred monkeys’ random touches of a keyboard. It is in fact a consequence of the nature of nonequilibrium conditions in complex situations.

A classic example of a complex, nonequilibrium situation is an earthquake. The complex network of forces that give rise to an earthquake is not in equilibrium. We can know that there will in all likelihood be an earthquake, but we can’t predict when or how large it will be. We do know that the probability of a given magnitude of earthquake decreases with the square of the intensity. This inverse square law holds for a lot of complex situations where nonequilibrium exists. Does it hold for innovation? We don’t know.

The remaining concept in this essay on defining innovation is what the innovation results in. For years we’ve had product and process innovations. We’ve found it useful to consider procedure innovations as well. In our lexicon, procedure describes the way people interact with other people. Process describes the way people interact with things. And, product describes the way things interact with things.

In Novations: Strategies for Career Management, Gene Dalton and Paul Thompson, define novation in the following way: “The word ‘novation’ is a legal term with a long history in English and American jurisprudence. It is unfamiliar to most people outside the legal profession, but better than any other word in the English language; the word ‘novation’ describes the complex process that provides the key to understanding the way individual careers unfold in today's organizations. The dictionary defines the term as ‘ . . . the substitution of a new obligation or contract for an old one by the mutual agreement of all parties concerned.’ We found that changing relationships are critical in moving from one stage to the next. But to make such a move, individuals must renegotiate a new set of obligations and expectations with all those around them. Delicate as these mutual negotiations are, they are compounded by the need to make psychological shifts with new self perceptions, new self expectations, and adjustments to new pressures. Novations proceed with such seeming naturalness for some people that few people around them even take note of the changes. But the majority of professionals have a very different experience. They often feel stymied and frustrated in their careers. These are the ones who fail to understand and successfully carry out novations.”

While this may be a useful term for a very specific form of procedure innovation, I do not see it useful in general.

Another term that is in use is business concept or business model innovation. Gary Hamel, Leading the Revolution, doesn’t specifically define business concept innovation, but he does give us some of its characteristics. “The goal of business concept innovation is to introduce more strategic variety into an industry or competitive domain. When this happens, and when customers value that variety, the distribution of wealth-creating often shifts dramatically in favor of the innovator.” Later he writes, “Business concept innovation is meta-innovation, in that it changes the very basis for competition within an industry or domain.” Still later, “Business concept innovation starts from the premise that the only way to escape the squeeze of hyper competition, even temporarily is to build a business model so unlike what has come before that traditional competitors are left scrambling.”

To me a business concept innovation is a collection of product, process and procedure innovations with the right mix of incremental, distinctive and breakthrough change. If it is the right mix, i.e. the mix creates unusual value for the customer, then a shift of wealth occurs.

So if innovation creates value for customers, it can create wealth. And, this is the ultimate effect of innovation, especially if you consider wealth in its old context – the common weal – well-being, prosperity and happiness for society.

Paul Schumann

Friday, June 25, 2004

Innovation 2004

An ambitious initiative is underway that you should be aware of. Joyce Wycoff, The Innovation Network, has launched an initiative to:

- Create a collaborative learning process that gathers the collective experience, thinking and wisdom of a cross-section of innovation practitioners, consultants and academics in the emerging discipline of innovation.

- Synthesize the collective wisdom into an easy to use and understand report.

- Distribute the report as widely as possible through various associations and publications, which focus on organizational innovation.

The breadth of the initiative as well as the response to this initiate has been impressive. A web site, blog, wiki and survey have already been created. Numerous people have already contributed some of their expertise to the effort.

If you're interested in innovation, you not only need to be aware of this project, you should join it. Go to the Innovation 2004 web site. There you can explore the project, the results to date and determine how you would like to get involved.

Paul Schumann

Innovative Search Engine

Want to try an innovative search engine? Then try KartOO. KartOO is a meta search engine with a graphical interface. KartOO launches your query to the most relevant set of search engines, gathers the results and compiles them in series of interactive maps.

KartOO uses a set of symbols to represent the type of source found, i.e. web page, home page, sponsored content, PDF, etc. The size of the symbol represents the significance to the search term. The graphical interfaces display the results in relation to each other. It displays the linkages and the key words that link them. When you move your cursor over a selection, the screen lights up illuminating the connections. At the same time, in a column on the left side of the screen, the description of the found content is displayed. Clicking on the site opens another page and the web page is displayed. Clicking on the key words modifies the search to include that key word. If you highlight the keyword just by moving your cursor to it and then move to the right column, there is a function to remove that keyword form your search.

As the results of the search are displayed, the left hand column displays the subjects contained on the page that are related to the search term. The colors represent a characterization of the subject, i.e. subject found in descriptions of several sites. A click on one of those subjects produces a search for that subject.

In the right column, the web site addresses that are on the page are displayed. Sponsored sites are shown there as well as KartOO commands.

The search box can accept many logical instructions. Look at the help page to find them. Some are different than other search engines. The search box can also except natural language questions, but make sure to include the question mark.

KartOO has some very powerful features. But, like any new tool, it requires learning. Try it on some difficult searches where you may be unsure about the search words. I have found it particularly useful in those situations.

Go to KartOO and give it a try. But don't just try it once. Go back several times until you get used to its difference.

Paul Schumann

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Netwar & Smart Mobs

Bruce Hoffman writes about Netwar in his article, "Plan of Attack" in the July/August 2004 edition of Atlantic Monthly. "Insurgents in Iraq are forging improbable alliances to fight what some analysts call a 'netwar'", he writes. "The Iraqi insurgency today appears to have no clear leader (or leadership), no ambition to seize and actually hold territory (except ephemerally, as in the recent cases of Fallujah and Najaf), no unifying ideology, and, most important, no identifiable organization. Rather what we find in Iraq is the closest manifestation yet of 'netwar', a concept defined in 1992 by RAND analyst John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt as unconventional warfare involving flat, segmented networks instead of hierarchies and command-and-control systems (no matter how primitive) that have governed traditional insurgent organizations. The insurgency in Iraq is taking place in an ambiguous and constantly shifting environment, with constellations of cells and individuals gravitating toward one another - to carry out armed attacks, exchange intelligence, trade weapons and engage in joint training - and then dispersing never to operate together again."

This sounds an awful lot like what author Howard Rheingold calls "smart mobs". In his book, Smart Mobs (2002) he writes, "Location-sensing wireless organizers, wireless networks, and community supercomputing collectives all have one thing in common: They enable people to act together in new ways and in situations where collective action was not possible before. An unanticipated convergence of technologies is suggesting new responses to civilization's founding question, How can competing individuals learn to work cooperatively?" Rheingold defines smart mobs: “Smart mobs consist of people who are able to act in concert even if they don’t know each other. The people who make up smart mobs cooperate in ways never before possible because they carry devices that possess both communication and computing capabilities. Their mobile devices connect them with other information devices in their environment…”

I've not heard about the Iraqi insurgents' use of technology. Rheingold describes a number of instances where smart mobs engaged in a form of netwar:

- Overthrow of President Estrada in the Philippines (2001)

- The Battle of Seattle (WTO) (1999)

- Gasoline price protest in Britain (2000)

- Violent political demonstration in Toronto

- Critical mass demonstrations in San Francisco

If technology is not driving the insurgency of Iraq, then due to the situation they are in, they were forced to adopt or invent a procedure innovation. And, that means that maybe this new way of working together collectively with others is "in the air", ready to be caught by any group.

Look for an extensive book review of Smart Mobs in the next edition of The Innovation Road Map Magazine.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Strategic Thinking

In the latest edition of The Innovation Road Map Magazine (Vol. 1, No. 2) Gregg Edwards describes the four abilities that develop the capability of strategic thinking:

1. Visionary time frame, or the ability to see the true potential of ever-larger new enterprises and then tenaciously actualize that truth.

2. Perspective, or the ability to cull from ordinary impressions the most consequential patterns of events and to evaluate their significance from many perspectives.

3. Comprehension, or the ability to quickly assemble all salient factors into strategies and to understand their implications at many levels.

4. Flexibility, or the ability to strategically organize both action and learning – to take advantage of and be responsive to unknowns as they become known.

However, as Edwards points out, it is not just these four abilities, but the four taken together as a whole that creates strategic thought. The synergy of the four, taken together, when actualized create results that appear to many as “magic”. The four abilities are not sequential but simultaneous and strategic thinkers constantly interplay the results of the four types of thinking with each other, almost in real time.

Edwards describes the development and application of strategic thinking to businesses, economic development and nonprofits.

To read the article, visit The Innovation Road Map Magazine and request free access to the magazine.

Paul Schumann