Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Social Friction; the essence of innovation

There are as many theories of creativity and innovation as there are consultants – I suspect! Most of these have at their core, the concept of the “spark”, the moment when the new idea pops up.  There are theories as to how this happen. For some people this appears to happen when they are working on their own and get   new insight – for others it is the product of analysis, debate and reflection.

A spark is the product of friction. This friction can be internal or external. Not everyone can abide internal friction; to be able to hold contrasting thoughts at the same time, to read away from one’s own perceived knowledge and to ask oneself the disconfirming question. For many, it is easier to work in a group and encourage the challenges and questions that lead to new knowledge. But the value of this group work is in relation to the group’s ability to handle critical debate and questioning.

What saddens me most is when groups avoid this friction. They end up with interesting new ideas, but the potential of their knowledge and experience coming together to discover breakthrough concepts is diminished. This is a waste of capacity. The long term cost of this lost opportunity is significant.

When you next work in a group whose remit is to develop new ideas or to innovate, then consider how you manage social friction. Does the group seek out the disconfirming questions? Is the “solution” grasped too quickly?  Look around you – is all that experience and knowledge truly being employed in the creation of something that adds value.

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