Mar 202008

I see a difference between innovation as it relates to particular products, services, or ideas, and innovation as it relates to the great changes that are shuffling their feet in the wings, ready to come on stage and change our lives. To assure long life as a company making goods to sell at a profit, we need a lot of the first kind of innovation; we need, in other words, to continually improve the way we develop and exploit our industrial methods. To assure life at all as a developed economy — a planet even — we need a whole lot of the second kind; we need, in other words, to break with the past and move on.

Soon. Now would be good.

To begin on innovation of the second kind, we need to cultivate a frame of mind that supports and encourages everyone to think hard about some of the ideas that got us where we are today. There’s no need to waste time repudiating them. (Although, when we see pictures of mountaintops lopped off and tamped down into the hollows and valleys, it’s tempting.) Yesterday is yesterday, over, and we need to put some of our attention on tomorrow.

I’d like to start a list circulating informally among us, a list of ideas that urgently need reconceiving. Each of us has a couple of those, but putting them together might jog our minds a bit. That, and each of us knowing that others are thinking along similar lines. Having company is a great impetus to innovation.

My list starts with failure and efficiency. From recent discussions, I think failure turns up on most lists. Not so sure about efficiency.

1. Failure. Our reconceiving of failure might take the form of exchanging definitions and descriptions that could lead us to new language to identify the work situations we now call failure. We could pile up a body of thinking that everyone could take in and use as material for the next conversation with someone who hasn’t made the leap. It might be worthwhile to get in the habit of writing “failure” whenever we use the word to name an iteration that’s a step made toward a future emergent outcome.

2. Efficiency. Right now, efficiency points at a cluster of ideas, all related to removing anything in excess of the absolute minimum needed to achieve a rigidly proscribed outcome. We assume that if we achieve that minimum, we’ll maximize our profit from the venture.

A growing number of people understand increasingly well that many displays of “efficiency” don’t exactly represent the facts. It will be an epochal advance when someone figures out how to assess the true cost of gathering coal by filling a valley with the mountaintop: to name who pays (for the immediate damage and for the damage caused by burning the coal); to name (and collect from) who should pay; to name who profits; to assess the true cost of the coal and compare that with the price; and, in short, to describe fully and honestly the efficiency of such mining methods.

3. Other ideas that could use reconceiving … please, add to this list!


Lee Devin

Lee Devin is a Senior Consultant with Cutter's Business Technology Strategies practice. Lee's background in theatre brings a unique perspective to the challenges faced by IT managers and managers in general.


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