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The Human Face of Innovation

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The Human Face of Innovation

We are on the cusp of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and it is about to challenge our ideas about what it is like to be human. Companies need to innovate as well as humans adapt, and problem solving and innovative capacity are the fundamental building blocks of survival of both. What this means is pretty clear, the human aspect of innovation has never been more important. Our essential humanness, never more valuable. So, in this blog we’ll explore what this means for teams and organisations seeking to drive innovation.

What’s the impetus for driving innovation?

A great example of the impetus for driving innovation in organisations comes from big Joe Schumpeter, father of creative destruction, knowledge creation and innovation. He suggests that in an organisation, the drivers of innovation might look like this:

  • The introduction of a new or improved product or service

  • Introduction of a new process

  • Opening of a new market

  • Identification of a new source of supply of raw materials

  • Creation of new types of industrial organisation

Another guru of the age, Peter Drucker suggested that the sources of opportunity for the development of this new knowledge or innovation might come from:

  • The unexpected or incongruous, things that throw reality out of focus for a moment, which make you question what you know, what you’re doing, how you’re doing it. These things force you to wonder – is there a better way or a need for a new solution?

  • Inadequacy in underlying processes or resources

  • Changes in industry or market structure

  • Demographic changes or changes in perception, mood or meaning

  • New knowledge or technology impacts

Much of the content of what Drucker and Schumpeter point out about Innovation is underpinned by some of the basic ideas around Psychological Safety and the ability of the organisation to communicate and understand itself, and its position in the world and its wider networks. It is clear that when we talk of knowledge creation and innovation, we speak of change, we speak of the emergence of the way forward. All of this comes down to human social and integrative skills.

Add in some Google research…

One of Google’s researchers, Julia Rozovsky, identified factors that separates their worst teams from their great ones. Her first example is a team filled with smart people, all optimised for peak individual efficiency. But the group’s norms discourage equal speaking; there are few exchanges of the kind of personal information that lets teammates pick up on what people are feeling or leaving unsaid.

In her second team, all the team members speak up and don’t hold back. They are sensitive to one another’s moods and share personal stories and emotions. While this might not contain as many individual stars, the sum is greater than its parts. This team performed better in an environment where they felt psychologically safe.

Psychological safety, as an output of team structure, positive relationships and appropriate leadership, is the foundation on which the capacities to innovate can fully function and develop.

Shape your future by putting people first.

What do we need as humans?

We need:

  1. The ability to engage with and integrate new knowledge at the human level and in systems to capture and interpret knowledge – Absorptive Capacity

  2. The ability to engage with a diverse set of minds and open networks – Social Capital

  3. The ability to make sense of dialogues, knowledge in which we engage and our relationship to them – Human Capital

It’s clear that the engine of adaptive capacity is open human dialogue, where people are not afraid to open up their world to criticism, adaption and change. So, in dealing with change, innovation and emergent strategy from a more adaptive perspective, as we have said, it is not so much about the planning but about the capacity to respond from a strategic perspective. The most useful tools we have in our armoury to accomplish all this are the many minds available to us in our communities and networks that we engage.

What can you do in your organisation to make this happen?

Shape your future by putting people first. Think of their needs, especially as Gen Z are now entering the workplace. Empower them and tap into their motivational drivers by asking them what and how they would like to work.

Remind yourself that the tools and technology of this Industrial Revolution are made for people to use, by people. Embrace technology for what it can offer and equip your teams with the infrastructure and space to experiment with them. Off-shoots of ideas can create ways of working that don’t exist, so be open to what falls out of this.

Develop leaders to help manage these shifts in technology and behaviour. Critical thinking skills, flexibility and the ability to create projections the impact of change are skills for now and the future.

Invest in your technical infrastructure and data analysing capabilities. All businesses must be making a move to be smart, connected organisations or they will soon fall behind the competition.