Thursday, July 01, 2004

Innovation and Networks

What drives innovation in a successful organization?

Over the last few days I've discussed innovation along the lines of Duncan Watts' book Six Degrees. Watts engagingly describes how innovation relates to adaptation and recovery.

But how can we encourage innovation in the first place? That is a burning question at many businesses, often moreso than issues of adaptation and recovery.

Interestingly, Watts does not address this question, even though it certainly relates to networks. Many other experts and professionals have worked very hard at answering this question, however, and I'll survey some of their work today.

In their book The Hidden Power of Social Networks, Rob Cross and Andrew Parker devote a chapter to "Developing a Sense-and-Respond Organizational Capability." Through several case studies, they discuss some of the different dimensions of communication that dictate an organization's ability to innovate. Whereas a traditional social network reveals "who knows whom," Cross and Parker discuss how other questions can reveal different kinds of relationship networks that are equally critical in a creative organization, such as

* Whose expertise are you aware of?
* Whom do you have access to?
* Whom do you seek when you want to brainstorm?
* Who energizes you, or de-energizes you?

Peter Gloor at the MIT Center for Coordination Science leads a team studying Innovative Collaborative Knowledge Networks. They look at networks defined simply by "who e-mails whom." They have developed a visualization tool that mines the e-mail archive of an organization and produces an animated network. The movie reveals the evolving social network structure over the life of the organzation. Their investigation is shedding light not just on the structural qualities of successful innovative organizations, but also on how communication patterns naturally evolve as a single organization shifts between phases of innovation and more stable forms of collaboration.

Other notable work in this area that I know of --

Debra Amidon of Entovation International has traveled the world advising companies how to achieve breakthroughs in knowledge innovation.

Synectics is a global consulting firm specializing in creativity.

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ARjun Thomas said...

Great article.. thanks for posting...