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June 12, 2008

Scenius and innovation

Kevin Kelly, over at the Technium, has an interesting piece about the "extreme creativity that groups, places or "scenes"" can occasionally generate", Scenius, or Communal Genius. Most of the post describes a climbing camp known as Camp 4, originally set up in the Yosemite in the 1930s, and is well worth a quick read.  As Kevin says:

Although many have tried many times, it is not really possible to command scenius into being. Every start up company, or university would like their offices to be an example of scenius. The number of cities in the world hoping to recreate the scenius of Silicon Valley is endless, but very few have achieved anything close.

Most technology companies make vague claims that they are in some way "innovative" - Eduserv is no exception.  How many achieve it in any real sense?  Not many I suspect.  It's certainly something that we struggle with here.

The Talis strapline (which comes to mind partly because I spoke there the other day), "shared innovation", is nice because it explicitly acknowledges that innovation has to take place within a wider "scene", beyond company boundaries.  And Talis appear to be quite successful in doing that, at least from the perspective of someone looking in from the outside.

I'm trying desperately not to end this post on a downer, but it seems to me that the sad fact is that most of us spend our working lives looking for scenius and that, in the main, there isn't enough to go round.

As I get more, err..., senior (in terms of the organisations I work for) I have also come to realise that, increasingly, my primary role in terms of encouraging innovation is to give people the space to be creative, then get out of their way.  Or as Kevin puts it, "... the best you can do is NOT KILL IT. When it pops up, don't crush it. When it starts rolling, don't formalize it. When it sparks, fan it".


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I think that I'm getting better at 'not crushing it', but working in a 'service provider' organisation, then I find "don't formalize it" much more difficult.

At some point, a successful innovation needs to become part of the service - it needs to be supported and live up to whatever service standards.

I think this is the most difficult aspect of innovation within my organisation - we need a structure that allows innovation, but also knows how to bring that innovation into the mainstream when it is time.

You need a process that supports innovation in any organisation. Something that helps turn ideas into a tangible benefit. Managers have a key role and need to be "hands ready". If managers are too “hands on” innovation will be killed at birth. Too “hands off” and the project runs the risk of wandering aimlessly.

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