Part of my exploration of the Socially Dynamic Organisation has let me work work with a wide range of organisations on ‘innovation’, and one thing is really lodged in my mind. Many organisations are taking an approach that we can characterise as ‘innovation outside the system’. Effectively, they create external, or ring fenced, spaces, places for innovation to thrive. I guess that in itself, this should tell us something: that core culture is constrained, intolerant or un-permissive of change, but there is a challenge beyond that. In the work i shared recently around ‘innovation’, i differentiated between ‘disruption’ (taking innovation into applied, new, action sets), and ‘exploitation’ (where the disruption, and new actions sets, were looped back, and integrated into, the parent culture). Without exploitation, we end up with a carbuncle: innovation bolted onto the outside, potentially fuelling a cultural duel between incumbent, and challenger, culture.
Today, i wanted to unpack that a little, specifically to consider which way the roadway runs: is it a one way street, or does traffic flow each way? Does the incumbent culture push regulation, oversight, and constraint into the challenger, slowly stifling it, or does the incumbent culture learn from, nurture, and support, the challenges, slowly reabsorbing the culture, and adapting as it does so? Effectively, can the system change, or does the system just tolerate externalised change.
If the organisation is a net exporter of culture, then it creates this innovative challenger, but then seeks to impose the known rules upon it. it seeks to reintegrate through control, which may damp out innovation. This makes the system safe, but Constrained, or Resistant. By contrast, if the Challenger culture of the innovation body is able to influence the incumbent culture, that makes it a net importer. This must be the route to change: a learning organisation, an organisation that can learn. But that requires a humility, and a recognition that change involves both parties.
Possibly the worst outcome is one of stasis: where the Challenges culture remains highly functioning, a carbuncle bolted onto the side, held in resentment by the Incumbent, with little cultural flow either way. Competing with ourselves. This is certainly a signal of Constraint: well meaning, ultimately disaggregated, with unaligned energy.
Creating innovation outside the system may be an indictment of current culture, but moving to an export model will flood the innovation we have managed to achieve, ironing out any potential gains.