Innovation as Recovery

3 Mar

Innovation is potentially the most counter intuitive concept you come across. To me innovation is the ability to spot links between different domains and put them together, Nassim N Taleb (2014) provides the perfect example- taking wheels and putting them on suitcases. Klein’s (2014) recent work on insight narrows down three potential routes to innovation-
1- Making a connection between two different domains
2- Spotting a contradiction in a connection
3- Discarding a connection out of creative desperation

I’d like to focus on the third point, creative desperation. Creative desperation is illustrated by situations where following routine would have meant catastrophe, something different HAD to be tried. Weick (2003) discuss the Mann Gulch disaster where a wildfire became so out of control the attending firefighters had to run for their lives. The fire spread so fast that running was only delaying the inevitable. The firefighter foreman, Wager Dodge, stopped, set the ground around him on fire and lay in the ash; the fire blazed around him, but the escape fire worked, he survived, unburnt. The tragedy produced a new go to method for firefighters faced with an out of control wildfire which could not be out run.

The disruption of routine can produce incredible feats of improvisation and innovation, and this is the counter intuitive element of innovation. Threats to innovation are what most societies struggle for-stability, routine, degrees of certainty. It’s difficult to take the risks needed for innovation when everything is going to plan; it’s even more difficult to be bothered. But imagine a society where everything was stable and routine, or a society led to believe everything was stable and routine, and then suddenly it was hit by some unexpected event. This would be a society poorly set up to innovate out of trouble, to turn the disruption into something better.

Back in 1922, philosopher John Dewey defined life as “interruptions and recoveries”, and this is probably a better way for governments, organisations and individuals to measure success- not how long they can maintain faux stability but rather how well they recover from interruptions. Recovery is where innovation, the development of something better, can and should take place.

Taleb, N.N (2014) Anti Fragile- Things that Gain from Disorder. Penguin
Weick, K.E. (2003) Positive Organizing and Organizational Tragedy in Positive Organizational Scholarship: Foundations of a New Discipline. Dutton, R. and Quinn, J. (Eds) pp.66-80.
Klein, G. (2014) Seeing What Others Don’t: the remarkable ways we gain insight. Public Affairs.

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