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What can Homer teach you about innovation?

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What can Homer teach you about innovation?

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I suspect for many of us, when we think of The Homer, our mind wanders to the wonderfully awful car created by Homer Simpson when he was given free rein in his estranged brothers car company.

He designed in an array of features that he thought invaluable, with the end result being a car so terrible that it drove the company to bankruptcy.

What you may not know however is that The Homer is a construct with a much earlier origin.  If I mentioned the classic Greek poems Odyssey or Iliad for instance, you’d probably instantly associate them with their author Homer.

Except their author wasn’t a man called Homer at all.  These great works were iterative efforts, built upon by hundreds of performers over the years, with particular scenes improved upon or altered slightly.

The master text that we know and love today actually came about considerably later on.  It’s possible to argue therefore that these hugely influential works were not created by a single author, but rather a collaborative and collective process of creativity.

So how does this apply to you and your organization?

Well, these great works were possible precisely because the numerous poets and performers of the day were able, and willing, to take a piece of work, modify it, experiment with it and adapt it as needs dictated.

The work wasn’t protected by copyright or other forms of intellectual protection that we so often see in evidence today.  Yet, so few companies are willing to open up in this way.

I wrote earlier this year about a couple of studies highlighting the value that organizations can derive from opening up their intellectual property.  When they do so, and their peers likewise, innovation becomes noticeably cheaper, and therefore more evident.  This in turn tends to make markets larger, therefore earning participants more in the process.

A recent study published in the Academy of Management Journal highlights how a similar affect can be seen when we share ideas on a personal level, within our organizations.  It suggests that there are similar processes at play on an individual level as there are at an organizational level.

“More specifically, employees who intentionally hide more knowledge seem bound to receive such selfish behavior in return from their co-workers, which will ultimately hurt them and decrease their creativity,”the researchers wrote in the study.

So in other words, just as shielding intellectual property behind patents encourages other organizations to do the same, so does shielding knowledge from your colleagues.  The research went on to reveal some of the systemic factors that tend to produce such an environment.  Highly competitive environments for instance not surprisingly do little to promote sharing.

The researchers revealed the importance of management, even in cultures where sharing and cooperation were actively promoted.  They revealed that in many such environments, the rewards and measurement parts of the system were seldom aligned, therefore employees were not rated any higher by their bosses when they shared knowledge than if they kept it to themselves.

The likes of Iliad, and indeed the huge number of massive collaborative projects that are underway in the world today, show what can be achieved when we’re open with our thoughts and ideas, both as individuals and as institutions.

What’s stopping you?

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