What is Innovation?
Editor’s Note: This is the 5rd in a series of articles about The Oxford Handbook of Positive Organizational Scholarship. See also Kirsten Cronlund’s article, A Powerful Collection: Book Review and Amanda Horne’s articles, Virtuous Organizations, Positive Deviance, and Kim Cameron’s Deviance Continuum.
I find all aspects of innovation fascinating, including
- How to create a culture of innovation
- Design approaches influenced by Appreciative Inquiry
- Hub communities
- Social innovation networks
- Unreasonable institutes
- Businesses that innovate for world benefit.
- Even new market innovation for chopsticks and edible insects
Similar to the challenge of establishing a precise conceptual definition for what is considered “positive” in Positive Organizational Scholarship (POS), defining “innovation” is tricky. Distinct from creativity, inventions, and lightbulb moments of genius, innovation is about bringing ideas to life that result in a new or improved process or outcome. The usefulness of each innovation is dependent on its perceived uniqueness within a specific context and time. Even Edison waited 10 years for enough useful knowledge to be available before he decided to go after his electrical innovation.Innovativeness as Positive Deviance is chapter 53 of the new Handbook of Positive Organizational Scholarship. Authors Jeff DeGraff and Dan Nathan-Roberts argue that characterizing the complex and seemingly polarized nature of innovation requires a holistic approach. Innovativeness is both
- cause and effect;
- process and product/outcome;
- created by individuals and created by groups;
- evolutionary and revolutionary in speed;
- incremental and radical in magnitude;
- influenced by external and internal environmental factors,
- and more.
Fundamentally, while an innovation can be “primarily distinguished by its unique qualities that allow us to recognize it as something better or new from that which currently exists,” what we deem as better or new changes over time. In practice, it is context and culturally specific. To illustrate the authors’ approach to innovation, let’s consider how technology can transform higher education.
From Innovation to Innovativeness
To accommodate the range of attributes, functions, and dynamics of innovation within the context of POS, the authors suggest using the concept of innovativeness defined as “an attribute or distinguishing property of any number of actions and outcomes that create the useful novelty.”There are three social levels where innovativeness may produce innovation:
- Strategic or “macro” level (e.g., US education system in our higher education example)
- Organizational or collective “enterprise” level where the organization exhibits its agency (e.g., individual university)
- Individual or “personal” level of leaders, managers, and innovators (e.g., university president and faculty members)
To spur progress and growth, innovativeness relies on cross-disciplinary and multi-dimensional approaches. The three main dimensions are:
- Propositions: The focus is on innovation as a means to an end, favoring speed and magnitude, and measuring success in outcomes such as productivity, time to market, and ROI. An example end is to reverse the 30-year trend of 6-7% increase in tuition annually.
- Practices: The focus is on processes and methodologies for understanding how innovation happens. An example is designing processes that increase student enrollment while improving efficiency of resource use.
- People: Most closely associated with innovativeness, this dimension focuses on the collective and creative experience of innovation from start to finish. An example is redesigning how instructors teach with online teaching technology.
Innovativeness Influenced by the Competing Values Framework
The authors introduce the competing values framework (CVF) to “organize the structures, dynamics, and practices associated with particular types of innovation.” This framework is a holistic approach to understanding and productively using the positive tensions that exist between four modalities (or forms in which innovativeness occurs) in order to generate new and better solutions. The chapter does a deep dive into the framework which I won’t reiterate here.The authors call out several POS concepts within each model identifed in the CVF.
- Clan: Human Relations Model: team building & collaboration, cooperation, relationship development, shared values, harmonious work environment, development of personal and collective competencies, positive energizers
- Market: Rational Goal Model: rewarding high performers, transforming problems into opportunities for abundance, creating clear goals for success and encouraging their pursuit
- Adhocracy: Open Systems Model: creativity, generativity, shared vision, energetic and positively affirming culture, belief in achieving the seemingly impossible
- Hierarchy: Internal Process Model: continuous improvement, integrity, organizational learning
The tensions among these models are opportunities for investigating the positive processes, outcomes, and interpretations of innovation. For instance, the tension between the Clan and Market Models explains different trade-offs regarding speed of innovation. If we must move to an online teaching business model, do we take the time to build the faculty’s skills and develop buy-in, or do we accept faculty attrition as the cost of business?
Similarly, the tension between the Adhocracy and Hierarchy Models affects the level of risk or expense an organization is willing to invest for innovation. Do we pursue revolutionary, disruptive innovation by offering all courses online for free, or do we incrementally provide online classes which is less disruptive but may be insufficient for reaching a new student market?
Ultimately, effective innovativeness draws from all four models to determine what’s needed to grow well and adapt within a complex environment.
The chapter ends on the note that there is much work to be done to integrate the concept of innovativeness into POS theory and practice. The authors leave us with three questions that set a direction for future research:
- How do POS principles function in the Market and Hierarchy models?
- How can the financial concept of deficiency be directly addressed by POS principles of abundance?
- How do POS principles function in our virtual and collaborative environment of product development?
Hungry for More: Future Themes I’ll Explore
While I appreciate how the chapter explored the basic attributes, functions, and dynamics of innovativeness within an organizational context using the competing values framework, I’m left hungry for more on the linkages between POS concepts and innovation. I’m mulling over several themes to explore in future articles:
- Is innovativeness restricted to the boundaries of positive deviance, or is positive deviance more like a learning method (similar to design thinking) for understanding innovation?
- Can we use the four approaches for defining what is “positive” in POS to define a “positive innovation”? (See Kirsten’s article for a summary of the 4 approaches.)
- The really hard problems the world is facing are adaptive challenges imbedded in complex social systems, which call for social innovation. Even management guru Peter Drucker believed that social innovation “…may be of greater importance and have much greater impact than any scientific or technical invention.” How can POS help share the positive processes and practices of social innovation with more traditional business and financial innovation?
As I mull over these themes, please share your thoughts — Where you see the greatest synergies for POS and innovation?
Cameron, K.S., Spreitzer, G.S. (2011). Introduction. In K. Cameron & G. Spreitzer (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Positive Organizational Scholarship. Oxford University Press.
Christensen, C. M., Baumann, H., Ruggles, R. & Sadtler, T. M. (2006). Disruptive Innovation for Social Change. Harvard Business Review, 84 (12), 96. Abstract.
DeGraff, J., Nathan-Roberts, D. Innovativeness as Positive Deviance. In K. Cameron & G. Spreitzer (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Positive Organizational Scholarship.
Drucker, P. F. (2002). The Essential Drucker: The Best of Sixty Years of Peter Drucker’s Essential Writings on Management. HarperCollins Publishers Inc.
Kamenetz, A. (2010). DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education. VT: Chelsea Green Publishing.
Lavine, M. (2011). Positive deviance. In K. Cameron & G. Spreitzer (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Positive Organizational Scholarship. Oxford University Press.
Phills J.A. et al. (2008). Rediscovering Social Innovation. Stanford Social Innovation Review. There’s a presentation by the author here.
Anthony, S. (2012). How Do You Create a Culture of Innovation? Fast Company online
Bruno, G. & Lippe, S. (2012). Rethinking Financial Innovation. World Economic Forum Reports online
Robinson, J. (2012). The Crash of the Eurozone? Interview of Robert Manchin by Jennifer Robinson. Gallup Business Journal.
Sustainability: The social innovation equation from the Designit website.
The Real Work Experience – chart from a Design for Social Change workshop courtesy of thinkpublic
Levels of innovativeness is a figure from the chapter
Competing Values Framework from the blog of Vincent van Eekhout