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I was greatly encouraged by a post on “Becoming Real Innovators” which I quote here. I particularly appreciate the affirmation of what I know from my UK-Africa Work (which has been developing since 2000, and is now part of my voluntary role in the innovative small charity Dadamac Foundation).

Jeff Rubingh writes:

As an innovator, you see much uncertainty, surrounded by waves of possibility, possibilities that you can’t really articulate, but you sense them. You know that you’re headed towards a destination. You see that you’re actually getting to know that possibility. You get confirmation that you’re actually on to something. And then that possibility becomes clearer and clearer as you get closer and closer.

Company innovation and social innovations

Jeff Rubing’s post is about companies, and my experience relates to individual social innovators, but much of what he writes about innovation is equally relevant in the context of social innovation. I appreciate that Jeff Rubingh gives legitimacy to the fact that I’m one of those people who “know what I’m doing but struggle to articulate it” and I know other social innovators who are struggling in a similar way.

We struggle to explain because an innovator is involved in “a process – usually a lengthy and untidy one – of linking a purpose with a principle“.  

Social innovation example

I can tie this into reality with reference to my voluntary work with Nikki Fishman in Dadamac Foundation. We know our vision and its reality but struggle to articulate it. Nikki shares true stories of what “Dadamac Changemakers” are doing, but stories alone don’t give the whole picture. We can give a flavour of the possibilities that will come about when enough stories have been told, and tell about the destination we see ahead, but that is such a huge vision that it may seem to be unrealistic dreaming. We need to provide anecdotes, and share ideas and connections, in order to show that what we believe about a new approach to International Development is based on a firm foundation, but collecting up such information takes time, even in a fairly raw form.

Doing innovation, talking about it, or supporting it.

People who are busy “doing innovation” are usually too overstretched to keep explaining what they are doing, especially given the untidness and hard-to-articulate nature of the process.

Most people who are in a position to support innovation need to see the results of an innovator’s dream first. They want to see some kind of arrival at the destination, before they believe in the journey. Jeff Rubing’s post about innovation helps to explain why genuine social innovation can be such a lonely journey, and why innovative individuals, are so poorly supported by the existing systems.

I’ve quoted more of his post below with my italics.

Becoming Real Innovators  by Jeff Rubingh

Companies today are eagerly seeking the answer to one essential question. How do we innovate?

(snip)

The Keys To Innovation

(snip)

If you search Amazon Books for “innovation” you’ll find 60,000+ results. 3 Clearly, answering this question is an area of differing opinion and knowing “the answer” of course is a fool’s errand. That said, two principles stand out that can help companies go from “making innovation a priority” to actually innovating.

Principle #1: Demanding Certainty Kills Innovation

“If you want to have good ideas, you must have many ideas.” — Linus Pauling

Understand that certainty is the mortal enemy of innovation.

(snip)

In innovative organizations, innovation is de rigueur because it’s deeply embedded in the culture and not doing so wouldn’t actually make any sense.

Principle #2: Innovation Is Discovery, Not Creation

“Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” — Michelangelo

Like balance in bike-riding, the key to innovation is discovery, the sense that you’re uncovering something, vs creation, the idea that you’re dreaming up something entirely new.

(snip)

As complexity scholar Brian Arthur notes, “Invention is not an event signaled by some striking breakthrough. It is process – usually a lengthy and untidy one – of linking a purpose with a principle (some generic use of an effect) that will satisfy it.”4

As an innovator, you see much uncertainty, surrounded by waves of possibility, possibilities that you can’t really articulate, but you sense them. You know that you’re headed towards a destination. You see that you’re actually getting to know that possibility. You get confirmation that you’re actually on to something. And then that possibility becomes clearer and clearer as you get closer and closer. It, in fact, becomes so obvious you wonder how you didn’t know it all the time. Like riding a bike, you wonder, “what was so hard about that?” And the process actually doesn’t seem like magic. It doesn’t seem like grabbing the wind. It is, in fact, a process, that when mastered, becomes part and parcel of how you do business, of how your company functions.

Innovation Is Counter Intuitive

(snip)

Innovation is especially challenging in the chasm between knowing and doing. It is, in fact, counter-intuitive, like riding a bike.

“Lean into the turn? I’ll certainly crash!” No, you’ll find a whole new world opens up for you!

“Allow freedom and uncertainty in my organization so that ideas flow and innovators can travel the path to the discovery of new and compelling products and services?” Yes! You’ll find that your company will shift dramatically into one that can’t ‘not innovate.’ That in fact, your people will be inspired, and that ideas will flow freely, and people will recognize new discoveries on the horizon. That they’ll know there’s freedom, responsibility even, to uncover those ideas, to develop them, to deliver them. You will, almost without knowing it, have joined the ranks of the real innovators!

Full post – Becoming Real Innovators

I read this in Brand Quarterly and found the post thanks to a tweet by Tim Rayner @timrayner01

If you want to find ways to support Dadamac Foundation and genuine social innovators ask me via the Dadamac Connect contact form