Monday, September 12, 2011

There Is No Recipe for Innovation

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Or so seems the conclusion of this fascinating blog post from Tim Leberecht of the the frog design and innovation firm, in which he reviews and connects several established and not-so-established kinds of innovation.

Jugaad seems the latest in a long list of innovation fads, "a colloquial Hindi word that describes a creative ad hoc solution to a vexing issue, making existing things work and/or creating new things with scarce resources." But that's just a launching pad for Leberecht, who gives his reader a stream-of-consciousness tour of different approaches to innovation floating around the business landscape. Design Thinking, Disruptive Innovation, Hybrid Thinking, Hacking, Shanzai--they're all given a quick but cogent treatment, the differences and distinctions between them blurring under Leberecht's scrutiny.

His larger point seems to be that there is no magic pill for innovation.

Most of these consultants are trying to sell innovation as a toolbox, but as former BusinessWeek writer Helen Walters aptly points out: Innovation cannot be reduced to a process. “A codified, repeatable, reusable practice contradicts the nature of innovation, which requires difficult, uncomfortable work to challenge the status quo of an industry or, at the very least, an organization,” she writes, and suggests that: “Executives are understandably looking for tidy ways to guarantee their innovation efforts – but they'd be better off coming to terms with the fact that there aren’t any.”

Which is an interesting backdrop for this week, because this is the week of WSAE's National Summit on Association Innovation, where association executives, professionals and industry partners will work together to create new capacities for innovation in the association community and to help individual association professionals develop practical innovation roadmaps for their own organizations. In the words of our summit facilitator, Jeffrey Cufaude:

By associating with each other in the collaborative learning environment of the National Summit on Innovation for Associations, we have the chance to not only gain fresh insights and develop tactical plans for our own organizations, but identify shared paths for moving together as a community.

I'm up for it. I'll be there and tweeting throughout the conference (following along and join in at #innovationhub).

It'll be another major step on the innovation journey I embarked upon when I joined the WSAE Board of Directors and became the chair of its Innovation Task Force. I went into that role with the impression that there was a way of "doing" innovation in the association world. Based on the innovation principles and processes I had been exposed to in the for-profit world, there surely was an adaptation to those models that could made for associations. It would be difficult to find, I believed, and it would take association professionals willing to experiment with different strategies in their real world, but it was there, and we could find it if we worked hard enough.

Now, almost two years later, I'm more confident than ever that associations can be innovative and can find ways to make innovation work for them. I've seen it in my own association and in many other associations in my network.

But I have increasing skepticism for the idea that there is a single innovation model that will work for everyone in the association community. Today, Helen Waters' words ring really true for me. We want innovation to be an established, predictable process, because established, predictable processes are easy for us to manage and master. But your innovation solution is going to be messy, and different from mine. There is a common body of innovation knowledge we can all draw from--things that have been shown to help and things that have been shown to hurt--but it is up to each one of us to study that body of knowledge and figure out how to apply it in our own situations.

I'm going to rededicate myself to that this week in Madison. When will you?

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