Innovation is a We-Movement
A mysterious alchemy churns deep under ordinary work conversations. We are mostly unaware of the living thing that can puncture the icy surface of our conversations with a much-needed answer or true direction. Every once in a while, we hear something from a trusted colleague and find ourselves stopping to say again the words that person just said. As we turn her words over in our head or even write them down, we realize our colleague had just solved a puzzle we’ve been thinking about for some time. Almost like she tossed an odd puzzle piece in the air, and it nailed the landing to complete the picture. Thank goodness we were paying attention and heard that word.
|“What’d you just say?”|
Some of us have learned to pay attention to the living things created in our conversation. In his book “Working out Loud,” John Stepper filled many pages with the notion of sharing our work as we do it. Stepper’s vision was to deepen relationships with colleagues by inviting them into our processes with questions and answers. These working-out-loud relationships themselves are the key to retaining knowledge and pushing that knowledge into insights.
These relationships can become generative for answers and solutions that seem to pop from nowhere.[i] In her 1987 book “Invention as a Social Act,” Karen Burke LeFevre tried to disabuse her readers of the writer-in-the-garret notion of creativity: how someone hides away in isolation to create a masterpiece.[ii] LeFevre noted the ways other people—and their shared social milieu—had a hand in pushing those artists forward. And then, she suggests ways we can take an active role in helping each other invent brand new things on the fly.
From Siloes to “Eureka”
One of our clients is actively working on ways to increase invention and bend their mindset toward innovation. We have teams in place and tools and processes that can produce insight and move knowledge across the entire vast enterprise. We are feeding the innovation mill with research, academic papers and conferences, ready for many bouts of “Eureka!” to strike.
But part of me wonders whether a culture of natural sharing and natural curiosity needs to rise alongside all these tools and processes. Perhaps a focus on trust and curiosity on a team-by-team basis is an essential quality to imbue in corporate culture. Trust and curiosity supplant siloed territories.
|Trust is an important component in the social processes behind knowledge exchanges.|
Anderson and Hardwick found that collaborators had more success with innovation when they trusted each other and that professional and social knowledge formed trust.[iii]
The alchemy at work under our conversations may have more reason to emerge with intentional acts of generosity and by building relationships with colleagues—even distant and silo-adjacent colleagues. All of that builds trust, which may trigger the curiosity that leads us to mutter “Eureka” a little more often.
[i] Stepper, John. Working Out Loud: For a better career and life. NY: Ikigai Press, 2015.
[ii] LeFevre, Karen Burke. Invention as a Social Act. Carbondale, Ill: Southern Illinois University Press, 1987
[iii] Anderson AR, Hardwick J. Collaborating for innovation: the socialised management of knowledge. International entrepreneurship and management journal. 2017;13(4):1181-1197. doi:10.1007/s11365-017-0447-6