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I recently gave a presentation on Open Innovation. One of the audience made the comment that he thought the role of serendipity was underplayed. This got me thinking about the role of chance in the innovation process. A new book by Matt Kingdon aims to describe how serendipity acts within organizations to create new innovative products, processes and services.

Science_of_Serendipity-RESIZEIn general, it is a very readable journal written from the point of view of experienced practitioner. You’ll find little in the way of academic underpinning, in the recipes for innovation success, but if you look carefully many ideas are key topics researched in business schools.

The author is founder of What If, a sizable innovation consultancy with offices around the world. On the spectrum of consultancies, What If tends towards the innovation-as-a-creative-activity end of the spectrum versus approaches taken in Big4 or high value-added consultancies.

The books appeal is to the leader searching for answers and tangible things that their own organizations can do to look at their product, processes and services in a different way; The key ideas you will find in reading the book (it takes 2h15m according to Matt),

  • The role of the innovation leader; “captain one minute, pirate the next”.  In other words innovation requires energy to overcome the everyday barriers in a company and that drive is usually down to individuals of the right stuff.  This practical observation is reinforced by many academics; that the role of Champion is a critical one.
  • Looking at the things you do in a different way.  Lots of examples, and my personal real-life corporate experience, teaches that established firms become efficient and consequently resistant to change.  It takes guts to re-frame the way in which the company exists to serve its customers.
  • Tools and Techniques for generating viable ideas are essential to back the right horses.  Again, there is a lot of academic energy given over to identifying elements of high-performance innovation. And guess what, a firm that uses the innovation toolkit well and regularly do better than those that do not.  Not only that, but if your thing is capability building, then this is a key foundation.
  • The working environment.  I’ve worked in some pretty dull office spaces; run down and creaky.  One new recruit to the company was amazed when she said “it was like, welcome to a leading FTSE100 company.  Here’s your (Portacabin) office.” Leaders convey a subtle but powerful message when they give innovation workers 3rd rate space.  So, make sure the spaces are, yes low-cost, but good quality and but build to co-locate and enable social interactions.  There is work that studied the effect of a stair well between groups on the level of interaction, which drops of at a significant percentage. Food for thought?
  • The organization. Companies can often be their own worse enemy; forget the competition, the enemy is within! This section talks about the obstacles the company puts in the way; real and intangible attitudes.  I call it, organizational infrastructure; put in place the organizational horsepower to drive, cut through, deliver resources and make decisions.

Overall, a nice read, but, for the thoughtful, it’s more 4 hours than 2!

Rob Munro

So, what do you think ?

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