Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Perils of "Innovation Cousins Kissing Each Other"

I just read an excellent post on HBR by Scott Anthony titled "Stop Innovation Inbreeding," in which he equates the long-term harm caused by the "introverted innovation efforts by most organizations to the pairing of harmful recessive genes that occurs with recurrent inbreeding within living species." Basically, innovation inbreeding endangers the long-term survival of innovation within an organization by recycling the same ideas from the same people with the same background. And just as harmful recessive genes eventually get paired in inbreeding among living organisms, so too do the worst ideas get touted as innovative in  organizational innovation inbreeding.

His three recommendations to avoid this are quite simple:
  1. Ensure that a healthy cross pollination of ideas occurs within your organization by forcing new internal connections. An example that he provides is IBM's "idea jams" that bring together thousands of disconnected employees, outside experts, and even external friends and family.
  2. Leverage external ideas even it means hiring new talent.
  3. Involve customers to ensure that you are really helping them with their ultimate "job" of whatever it is they are trying to accomplish with your product or service.  
Not surprisingly, and to my delight of course, these suggestions map perfectly to portions of my recent book, Living in the Innovation Age

Take, for example, the first suggestion. Chapter 8, "Leveraging the Medici Effect", is all about ensuring that an organization prevents "silo innovation" by ensuring diversity of workforce, diversity of ideas, and promoting a culture of strong collaboration among employees with different backgrounds. 

Suggestion #2 is neatly captured as part of Principle #4 (Chapter 5) that states that "Innovation Seeks to be Free." This is where I discuss the importance of unconstrained innovation techniques such as crowdsourcing and open innovation

Finally, I not only discuss the importance of focusing on the "true job" of the customer but the often overlooked perils of "too much involvement" as well in my discussion of the "Customer Centric Paradox" in Chapter 1.

The Bottom Line - Innovation inbreeding is harmful to an organization's long-term survival. Following the above simple suggestions, however, can go a long way is ensuring that "innovation cousins" in your organizations don't end up kissing each other! :)

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