Innovating from the Bottom-Up

Innovation is definitely a complex endeavor that requires the orchestration of multiple dimensions. Without doubt, unless an organization's leadership has thought out the structures, processes, metrics, rewards systems, and knowledge and skills required to advance their innovation agenda, they will not be successful.

However, this is not to say that there's nothing to be done at the front-line of organizations to advance innovation. Interestingly, many instances of innovation occur not because of management, but despite of management!

In this Blog, I'll be sharing some ideas on how innovation can be driven from the bottom-up. It's a long awaited complement to all the important research and literature on how to drive innovation from the top-down.

Let's see what develops.

Ulises Pabon

Sunday, February 22, 2009

A CIO or a pair of revolutionaries? Take your pick.

I received this link from Business Week's Innovation and Design last week ( which leads to an article by Thomas D. Kuczmarski titled Obama Needs a Secretary of Innovation (February 19, 2009).

Coincidentally, I just got back from a business trip to Jacksonville, Florida and I had two books waiting for me at my office from The Next 100 Years by George Friedman, founder of Stratfor, and Work Hard. Be Nice. by Jay Mathews.

I'm into page 107 of Jay Mathews' book which chronicles the experience of two young teachers - Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin - who've transformed the lives of hundreds of low-income, at-risk elementary school students. It's an extraordinary example of innovation from the bottom-up and although I'm just about one-third through the book, I can't resist juxtaposing the emerging elements of this success story against Kuczmarski's recommendation for a nation's equivalent to a Chief Innovation Officer. Kuczmarski's recommendation may be well intended but, to quote one of my past mentors, the road to hell is full of well intended people.

While I haven't completely discarded Kuczmarski's idea - for sure, it has some movement value - I think that the emerging Web 2.0 and 3.0 communication and collaboration tools may well be the catalist required to turn bottom-up innovations into system-wide transformation.

So, is it a CIO that we need, or more people in the walks of Feinberg and Levin?


The quintessential paradox

In a nutshell, here's the quintessential paradox. I've invested over 20 years of my life studying and researching the field of creativity and innovation field, with, at least, the last 15 designing and implementing innovation systems across all types of organizations. I've seen organization's adopt innovation best practices and I've seen their innovation output increase significantly, many times representing the key to their continued competitiveness and outright survival. I have enough empirical evidence to conclude that organizational design - in the broadest sense: strategy, structure, processes, capabilities, metrics, etc. - as an independent variable, will determine an organization's innovative output.

Having said that, I can't count the times where I've witnessed innovation occurring within the confines of an organization, not because of management but, despite of management! People, often in sheer acts of disobedience, ignoring or mocking bureaucratic barriers and driving innovation with a vengeance.

So, does innovation happen because of management or despite of management? There's evidence of both. However, since I've dedicated most of my research, work, and publications to the former, I'll use this blog for the latter. It occurs to me that I can use this blog to inventory cases of bottom-up innovation and, hopefully, get people to share their experience as well. I don't know, perhaps a theory of what it takes to innovate from the bottom-up may emerge. For the time being, it'll be an interesting experiment.