More on innovation

I’ve mentioned innovation in the past and it seems my fellow EMC blogger has some interesting thoughts on the subject as well. I won’t say much about Chuck’s insights into evolution, human advancement, or Darwin’s theories…..

But his basic premise that true innovation is organic and innate in the person or team innovating is a good one. There have also been a few others talking about how innovation happens (see Dare’s post on the same topic and Stowe’s post on work group organization). Perhaps they are all off reading Scott Berkun’s new book….

If you look closer at how evolution happens in nature, it comes from both migration and innovation….one species migrates to a new land, or a person brings seeds to a new location…. or in the case of innovation, one species discovers a new use for something or discovers it doesn’t need to use something and hence evolves out of innovation. If you compare these two methods for evolution with the premise that Dare puts in his post (mimicking other companies is a good way to innovate), that may or may not be true. It all depends on the environment that the actions are being performed in.

Getting back to Chuck’s analogy….. Let’s look at the advancement of mankind; there are heavily argued reasons why hunter/gatherer societies remained hunter/gatherers even after their neighboring settlements moved on to be farming countries. Even today in places like Namibia there are several hunter/gatherer tribes who have a choice of remaining hunter/gatherers, becoming farmers, or working for modern companies/economies. So why is it then that they don’t? Why is it that after trying it some hunter/gatherer tribes have made every effort to return to being hunter/gatherers? While others accept the changes whole heartedly and advance their tribe or community?
I don’t claim to be a sociologist or an anthropologist (and even if I was I don’t think I could definitively answer the question)….but the relation to innovative companies is what is important. Mimicking other companies or people does not guarantee success… In fact, not mimicking the other companies and evolving at your own pace may breed better results. This directly relates to IT departments and software development companies…. accepting the staff’s talents and almost exploiting their natural aptitudes will almost always naturally equal innovative success…. after all it is human nature to be creative and innovative (regardless of how large or small the creation is).

The old overuse of Darwin’s theories and saying companies need to change the way they work to succeed, innovate or die, only the strong survive,blah, blah, blah….. Sorry it’s not true. People are people…. they need to be nurtured so that they can naturally innovate. Maybe a little careful guidance from management, or maybe management needs to change the company direction (or hire a different set of people that will better align to their current direction), the bottom line is a group of people will naturally produce a culture and that culture will use external influences (copying other people), re-use old influences (migrated habits from old companies), and create new ideas for other people to use (original thought). Engineering Management, Program Management, etc all need to understand the simple concepts of creating the environment that enables the innovation that the employees will naturally produce when given the chance…. Then again most folks on the web have already figured out that last part. That’s why giving techies free lunch, a few toys, and a chance to relax on their lunch break is more successful then a stuffy conference room presentation by some sales guy in a suit!

Btw, Scott, you really need to get both of your books into audio format so I can finally get to reading them :p

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