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How does your organization define innovation?

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How does your organization define innovation?

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In a previous post I explored how innovation is typically defined in two ways.  The first, and arguably most common, sees innovation as the creation of truly unique things.  These groundbreaking discoveries are indeed incredibly valuable, but they’re also pretty rare.  Much more common is a recombination of already existing things in new ways.  When innovating in this way, the possibilities are almost limitless, yet the notion doesn’t appear to be anywhere near as well accepted.

Perhaps a good start point in rectifying that position could come from Martin Weitzman’s classic paper on recombinant growth.  In it, he develops a mathematical model of how an economy might grow.  He defines various fixed factors, such as the tools and buildings an economy contains, but more importantly explores how these fixed items are augmented over time as ideas are combined and recombined into unique applications.

The paper therefore sees innovation less as a kind of fruit tree where ideas are grown and harvested, but more as a building block that can be constructed and applied in a myriad of ways as new knowledge is applied to existing ideas.  When you begin to envision innovation in such a way, it literally explodes the number of possibilities that exist for existing knowledge to be recombined in new and interesting ways.

The only constraint on such an environment is the ability to go through these many alternatives and find the ones that are truly valuable.  As Weitzman concludes in his paper:

In such a world the core of economic life could appear increasingly to be centered on the more and more intensive processing of ever-greater numbers of new seed ideas into workable innovations.  In the early stages of development, growth is constrained by number of potential new ideas, but later on it is constrained only by the ability to process them.

Which is where social business can play such a huge role.  The hyper-connectivity that has given rise to the wisdom of crowds has allowed us both to identify seed ideas, and also to recombine them and remix them in ever more interesting ways.  What’s more, the crowd have also proved rather adept at analyzing the viability of ideas, thus performing the processing function nicely too.

How does your organization enable employees to remix existing knowledge?

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