Innovation Chaos Vs Refined Order

I had an interesting conversation today over Twitter with Simon Wardley, business innovation specialist and punchy public speaker. Unfortunately, the 140 character limit of Twitter makes it difficult to say what you really need to say but it still makes interesting reading.  I’ve cut ‘n’ shut the text spanning two or more tweets to make it a bit easier to read.

As you will see, it appears at first that I am disagreeing outright with Simon’s statements.  Actually, this is not the case…  It was a dirty trick (which worked) to provoke a response and further the conversation. Sorry, Simon!

Anyway, here’s the transcript:

@swardley wrote:  If you focus only on business performance improvements, then the one thing you’re not focusing on is your companies future.

@LStacey wrote:  I disagree wholeheartedly with that statement.

@swardley wrote:  Which statement?

@LStacey wrote:  The one on focusing on business performance improvements. Surely to focus on improvement you need to be mindful of the future.

@swardley wrote:  I agree wholeheartedly that you need business performance improvements to keep up & compete with the marketplace however business performance improvements are based upon order and minimising deviation from a idealised process…  Unfortunately the innovation you need in order to survive tomorrow requires deviation and hence disorder.

@LStacey wrote:  Not exactly true.  Innovation can/should be built into performance improvements and with good process mapping need not be chaotic.

@swardley wrote:  The words that I’m objecting to are “only” & “improvements” to do this would mean to kill innovation in an organisation.

@LStacey wrote: Actually, that part I agree with.  Refining is OK but many businesses are scared to refine outside the box.

@swardley wrote:  I agree with you on refining and constantly improving processes but not on innovation as a defineable process.  However disagreement is good.  Do you have an example of innovation as a defined process I could look at?

@LStacey wrote:  Not exactly but I can provide you with case studies of building in innovation to refine end to end processes within manufacture.  A brief example from my blog: [link no longer exists] – I’ve more where that came from.

@swardley wrote:  Thanks

@LStacey wrote:  The methods I use for business improvement in general actually encourage innovation rather than just taking out the waste.  Admittedly in manufacturing your start and end points are clearer but I’m currently doing similar in the property business.

@swardley wrote:  I’m not doubting your methods.  There is a paradox though: Innovation requires disorder, improvement creates more order.

@LStacey wrote: This is true but who says you can’t have both within a system?  I think you NEED both.  Plan, do, check, adjust, repeat…

@swardley wrote:  I absolutely agree you need both order and disorder within the system.  But managing this requires the simultaneous use of different methodologies.  This is the problem with “only focus on business improvements”.

I feel that this is a conversation that needs to be carried further sometime.  While it is obvious that you need both innovation and refinement within a business, finding a balance can be very difficult and I feel would differ greatly from business to business.

Developing a systemic approach to innovation is something I am very interested in would like to take further.  Although innovation is truly chaotic, I believe it is possible to manage this like any other business process.  To some degree I have already succeeded in this but my process of developing the system still needs refinement in its self!

The problem with a systemic approach to innovation is that systems create boundaries and boundaries stifle innovation and the creative process.  So have I hit a brick wall here?  Is this even possible?

I think so.