According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, innovation is defined as “the introduction of something new” or “a new idea, method, or device.”
With the recent estimate of a company’s longevity in the Fortune 100 space being downgraded to a mere 14 years, innovation is an obvious stated goal in most organizations’ strategies. Whether an organization is focusing on “iterative innovations” – taking a system or product already in use with its design being continuously improved on, or the discovery of a previously unknown product or service, innovation tops most companies stated goal sheet.
But many struggle with generating the spark needed to stay competitive. The easy answer in most organizations’ purview is to hire more people with more credentials. Other organizations reorganize frequently, sure that forced interactions with new teams will help foster innovative discussions. Companies conduct large scale agile transformations to break down business unit silos or bring in design experts to create open workspace solutions to force interaction and communication. Some have gone so far as to attempt to isolate research and development teams in hope that, by removing normal business distractions, they focus on creation.
Some have tried all of the above, much to the chagrin of their employees.
Unfortunately, even the best intentioned efforts of organizations frequently fall short without an in-depth understanding of the underlying factors that create an environment that sparks these innovative ideas. Innovation rarely is an earthshattering insight by a singular genius, but rather the product of a network of people with varying experiences and backgrounds who have both the expertise and social capital to progress an innovative idea throughout an organization.
A recent study network analysis study from pre-eminent network theory practitioners (Groundswell: Tapping the Power of Employee Networks to Fuel Emergent Innovation; Cross, Arena, Sims, Uhl-Bien) discusses the importance of an objective view into an organization’s innovation journey through a network analysis lens.
“Rather than leave (emergent innovation) to serendipity, they (leaders) need to create collaborative contexts where innovation is more likely to emerge than from unpredictable pockets of creativity. Importantly, they need to stimulate these kinds of environments in a thoughtful way that does not simply overload employees with new collaborative demands from formal matrix structures, multiple “part-time” team assignments or collaborative technologies that over-tax people and too often kill creativity and innovation”.
Network analysis studies allow organizations to identify their brokers (people transmitting ideas across boundaries), connectors (people best suited for development and implementation), and energizers (people who attract others to ideas and concepts and spread it across a network), as well as show the strength/opportunities around their internal adaptive space. Running a network analysis study ensures organizations take a thoughtful and data-driven approach to connections between people and teams and arms leaders with deep insights that can embolden their approach to taking innovation leaps within their organization.
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