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

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Can Innovation save the US?

During the last couple of weeks, perhaps provoked by the year end, I've seen over a dozen of articles and columns arguing that innovation will save the US economy. While no one can argue against the critical role innovation plays in any economy, proclaiming that innovation will save the U.S. misses the point in so many ways.

First, it seems to ignore the fact that the rest of the world is also riding the innovation wave. Granted, United States enjoys many competitive advantages in the innovation arena but, to use a somewhat abused term, the world is flatter and the competitive landscape is leveling out.

Second, proclaiming innovation as the cure-all is delusional. Competitiveness and economic growth are wicked problems. By wicked, I mean ill-defined, multi-dimensional, non-linear, and complex. As tempting as it may be, proposing a single factor as the absolute solution ignores the multifaceted nature of the beast.

To top it all off, most of the pro-innovation arguments call for "top-down" heavy solutions - create a Federal Innovation Office, establish an Innovation Fund, pass an Innovation tax credit. They seem to ignore the "bottom-up" side of the equation. If innovation will play a protagonist role in ailing our economy, and it will, it won't be through an exclusive "top-down" approach.

I'm an innovation freak. My career has revolved - in many ways - around the innovation theme. To hear innovation proclaimed as the "true" or "only" source of competitive advantage is music to my ears. Unfortunately, the world is a lot more complex than that.

A final comment from a very different angle, our conceptual faculty gives us the capacity to abstract beyond the specifics of multiple instances and integrate perceptual entities into a single cognitive device - i.e., a concept. That's how we form words. The concept chair stands for all types of chairs; past, present, and future. We can repeat this process with the concepts chair, sofa, and table; and arrive at the concept furniture. Further cycles of abstraction will get us to things or stuff.

So, there's nothing wrong with our interest in naming the final cause of competitiveness, wealth, and economic growth. It’s in our nature – as conceptual beings – to do so. It’s just that innovation – as with quality in the 70’s – is too concrete an answer. If you’re really after the final cause of competitiveness, let me volunteer our ability to think. There you have it. What do you think?

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