Innovation = Connections

A couple of recent things have struck a chord with me. Check out Mark Earls (whose book Herd is essential reading – track it down now) in his post Rethinking What Business is For – after discussing the dialog concerning public sector versus private sector, he says:

But there’s precious little discussion of what business is for? Who does it serve and how? How should we evaluate business? Merely in terms of shareholder value as we have done for the last couple of decades? Or are there (as I and some others have been arguing for some time) some other things that businesses should be doing?

He is playing off of this from Hugh MacLeod’s daily newsletter:

One of the key themes in Herd is that while we might think that we do things as individuals, nearly everything we do is actually mediated through our connections. Our network drives our behaviour to an incredible degree. Earls is arguing that our firms must be organised around this fact – and I think he’s right.

We know that innovation and new ideas are primarily the result of networks of people, sharing ideas and coming up with novel connections between them. This is a point that Steven Johnson makes in his review of The Shallows by Nicholas Carr:

The problem with Mr. Carr’s model is its unquestioned reverence for the slow contemplation of deep reading. For society to advance as it has since Gutenberg, he argues, we need the quiet, solitary space of the book. Yet many great ideas that have advanced culture over the past centuries have emerged from a more connective space, in the collision of different worldviews and sensibilities, different metaphors and fields of expertise. (Gutenberg himself borrowed his printing press from the screw presses of Rhineland vintners, as Mr. Carr notes.)

It’s no accident that most of the great scientific and technological innovation over the last millennium has taken place in crowded, distracting urban centers. The printed page itself encouraged those manifold connections, by allowing ideas to be stored and shared and circulated more efficiently. One can make the case that the Enlightenment depended more on the exchange of ideas than it did on solitary, deep-focus reading.

Quiet contemplation has led to its fair share of important thoughts. But it cannot be denied that good ideas also emerge in networks.

Innovation = Connectionsconnecting ideas to each other, and connecting ideas to people. Some innovations still come from the lone genius in the garage, but mostly, they come from connections between people. That’s what we must remember when we try to manage the process.

Student and teacher of innovation - University of Queensland Business School - links to academic papers, twitter, and so on can be found here.

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4 thoughts on “Innovation = Connections

  1. Your comment, “nearly everything we do is actually mediated through our connections. Our network drives our behaviour to an incredible degree,” reminded me of the book Competing in a Flat World where the authors argue that more and more, competition is not between companies but networks. The product with the most effective network behind it wins.

    They’re talking about networks of companies, but your comment made me think that “the network begins at home” and then extends out to other companies in the execution chain (i.e., “supply chain” is too limited a term in this context). Indeed, “our firms must be organised around this fact.”

  2. Thanks Matt – I think that your point in the second paragraph, that networks begin internally and then extend out, is very astute. And I also agree with the idea of an execution chain – when I talk about it I refer to it as the value network, but in both cases it extends well beyond the supply chain, or the value chain.

    I think that we have to be thinking about things in networks terms if we are aiming to thrive these days.

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