Welcome to Emerging Futures -- Volume 79! The Two Faces of Innovation...
Good morning – emergent and evolving possibilities,
This week we have been in Graz Austria, it’s the second week of our Green Innovation Bootcamp – we’ve been working with fourty participants on approaches, frameworks and techniques for green innovation. It has been quite an amazing and intense week – long hours of workshops, visits and much else.
Next week we will be at SXSW leading a workshop and then the week after we will be at the Venture Well conference in Washington DC…
But for now we are far above the Atlantic flying into the wind cramped like fine sardines reflecting on the week:
One of the most important goals of the week on Green Innovation was to have the participants sense at a very fundamental level how different the techniques are for “disruptive” innovation from those that are far more familiar with and only work well for “developmental” innovation.
Often we see people assume that if a tool works well for one aspect of innovation – it will work equally well in all circumstances. The most common tools in the design and entrepreneurial ecosystem (e.g. those of the problem-solution approach (MVP, BMC, Product-market fit, etc) are not suited to Disruptive Innovation – and they will in fact undermine the disruptive potential of an innovation process.
Creativity and innovation are processes of change making in general. And change at its simplist can be understood as the production of a difference. Creativity and innovation thus involve the production of a novel difference – no matter how small or large.
But small and large differences are not the fundamental aspect that makes a difference different. If the difference is a variation – no matter how small or large it is a “difference-in-degree”. Most differences (and innovations) are of this kind – variations – there are smaller and larger cars, sleeker or more boxy cars, cars with massive or small tires – these are all just variations of cars.
Most of our innovation tools are designed to help successfully develop new variations – these are in essence the tools of improvement – they help to make a better, faster, more efficient cars.
Considering users, customers, working on the product-market fit, prototyping, and pitching all make sense when the focus is on developing novel variations and novel differences-in-degree. After-all there are car customers who have wants, needs, and problems to be solved – and these can be solved with business modeling tools, the making of minimum viable products (MVP’s), prototyping and eventually pitching.
But variation is fundamentally conservative – the new bigger, faster, sleeker car is after-all still a car.
We can summarize it this way: Change-in-degree is:
… and the tools that work are:
But not all forms of difference are variations. Not all things that exist are variations of something. This is especially critical for innovation: how did the first car come about? – it could not have been a variation of an already existing car – it had to be something else. There has to be a “before” – a something prior to variation. We know with cars what historically came before the first car – and that is animal based transportation – the horse drawn cart for example. And a horse drawn cart is qualitatively different from a car. It is part of a different approach to transportation – it is qualitatively different – it is what is called a “difference-in-kind”.
And no matter how hard you might have asked horse transportation users about their problems, use cases, needs and wants – you would never get to a car – or any other radically different and novel form of transportation – you would always end up with tools and practices to expand the world of animal based transportation.
A radically different approach and radically different tools are required to co-evolve something qualitatively novel.
First, we know the classical techniques of Ideation will be of limited help and that we need far more tangible, active and experimental techniques of probing that involve a process of disclosing + blocking, and following unintended capacities in a co-emergent manner (where the outcome will exceed knowing) across a threshold that demarks the line between variation and qualitative difference (see diagram above).
Radical innovation involves a novel form of change-in-kind and not simply a big change-in-degree – the change is qualitative and not quantative in nature – it is not about size but kind.
Radical Innovation does not make new product in an existing space – it allows for the co-emergence of a new world.
We can summarize it this way, change-in-kind is:
and the tools that work are:
The tools and practices should sound different – for they are different.
You need different practices for different forms of change and innovation.
It is only when we think that all innovation is generally the same that we can think one toolbox will work in all circumstances. What is key is not to conflate the two forms of difference and innovation. They are different and they require different habits, practices, framework, questions and approaches.
This was something we really wanted our workshop participants to understand at an embodied level – how probing and co-emergence feels in contrast to ideation and prototyping.
Once you have this sensibility and these two very different tool boxes innovation becomes possible.
And for us, quite exhausted, above the Labrador sea – it is where we will leave you for the week.
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