Friday, 4 September 2015

The innovation spectrum

Innovating and Knowledge Re-using form part of a spectrum. Each behaviour has it's place. Either behaviour is counterproductive in the wrong context. 

Innovation in the wrong context is "re-inventing the wheel". Re-using knowledge in the wrong context is "flogging a dead horse".

The graphic below shows the spectrum of innovative behaviour in different contexts linked to the maturity of the knowledge in question.

Innovation is the required behaviour when new knowledge is needed and no applicable knowledge exists to do the job. Here the risks and costs of innovation are entirely justified investments in future success. Here we are talking about breakthrough or step-out innovation (often identified through processes such as Deep Dive) and the development of new process or new product.

Improvement (small innovations to make existing process or product better) is the required behaviour when the current knowledge or design can be improved without being re-invented. The small innovations (often identified through processes such as After Action review, Kaizen or Retrospect, or in Community of Practice discussions) drive continuous improvement.

Tinkering is common behaviour when people are re-using knowledge but wish to "make it their own" through adapting before adopting. Provided they understand the risks of making changes (which means that the knowledge must come with documented "know-why" as well as "know-how"), tinkering has a neutral effect on performance while enhancing the user's willingness to apply the knowledge.

Meddling is common behaviour where there is a strong "Not Invented Here" culture, and where the knowledge is not documented well enough that people understand the risks of changing it. Here people adapt the existing knowledge so much that it no longer works. Meddling can have a negative effect on performance. 

Re-inventing is where people either are unaware that applicable knowledge exists, or cannot find it, or do not trust it when they do find it. Re-inventing is very costly to the organisation, and results in repeated mistakes, and repeated spend of money trying to re-solve problems where the answer is already known. 

Innovation is therefore not always desired behaviour. Innovation carries risk, and where an adequate solution exists, there is less risk in following this solution.


This is something to remember when tempted to promote a "culture of innovation". I remember a manager in a high-reliability, high-risk industry saying to me "I wish my people were not so innovative - then our projects would be cheaper and safer".

Make sure you focus your innovation efforts where they are needed the most, and not where they turn into meddling and re-inventing.


1 comment:

xuehui liu said...

Very good metaphor, not all innovations are good.

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