Those of us that spend a lot of time thinking about innovation tend to view it as something that is good. After all, research shows that organisations that are more innovative are more profitable, have happier employees, grow faster, are more resilient, and have many other positive attributes.
So how can you not love innovation?
And yet, many people don’t love it. Especially managers.
Here is part of what Phillips says:
…innovation is fairly unpredictable. This is increasingly true as the amount of disruption possibility increases. Again, we have executives who have been taught to believe, and their compensation reinforces, that businesses are organizations which produce regular, steady outcomes in the face of any environmental uncertainty or economic chaos.
Kevin Kelly explains why the uncertainty level is so high with innovation in What Technology Wants (and you can see an earlier version of this argument here on his blog):
The advantages of new technology are always disruptive. The first version of an innovation is cumbersome and finicky. It is, to repeat Danny Hillis’s definition of technology, “stuff that does not work yet.” A new-fangled type of plow, waterwheel, saddle, lamp, phone, or automobile can offer only uncertain advantages in exchange for certain trouble. Even after an invention has been perfected elsewhere, when it is first introduced into a new zone or culture it requires the retraining of old habits…. The first version is almost always only marginally better than what it hopes to displace. That is why only a few eager pioneers are inclined to adopt an innovation at first, because the new primarily promises headaches and the unknown. As an innovation is perfected, its benefits and education are sorted out and illuminated, it becomes less uncertain, and the technology spreads. That diffusion is neither instantaneous nor even.
Here is the heart of the matter: new ideas “can offer only uncertain advantages in exchange for certain trouble.”
This is probably the biggest problem that needs to be overcome in order to become more innovative. And I’m not sure how to best address.
To innovate, we need to be more comfortable with uncertainty, and uncertainty avoidance seems to be pretty well hardwired into most people. Uncertainty reduction plays an important role in creating nearly every one of the ten tensions in innovation that I outlined previously.
Unfortunately, making people more comfortable with uncertainty is really hard. That’s why there is often a strong emphasis on tools and process when organisations try to improve innovation. Unfortunately, these solutions often just mask uncertainty.
Instead of ignoring uncertainty, we need to actually come to grips with it. Learning some complexity theory can help, and so can acknowledging the issue up front.
If anyone has any further ideas about how to best confront this problem, I’d love to hear them!