Re-invention: Don’t Be Afraid To Innovate Your Innovations

We’ve all heard terms like reinvent the wheel or reinvent yourself, but seldom do we consider the importance of understanding and considering reinvention as we move to make our educational institutions and organizations more creative and innovative.

Probably because we often only see reinvention as starting over, beginning anew, or pulling the shambles back together again.

However, there is another side to re-invention that is important for us to internalize when it comes to innovation. As Rogers shares in his work, Diffusion of Innovation, reinvention is the “degree to which an innovation is changed or modified by a user in the process of its adoption and implementation.”

Which means, we have to be much more open to owning the innovations and inventions that we are attempting to incorporate and integrate into our organizations. We have to be more open to remixing and reinventing those innovations that we engage in implementing and adopting.

Too often we try to conform in order to make the innovation work, instead of conforming the innovation to make it work for us. We tend to work for it, instead of the other way around.  

And just as often, we try to overlay a new and novel innovation that worked somewhere else, believing, without understanding the obstacles, difficulties and complexities that they overcame, that it will work in the same manner in our organization.

That will almost always be a false assumption…

Each organization has different people with different mindsets and abilities. People who are at different places in their learning and understandings. Each organization has its own culture, environment and ecosystem that has its affect and effect on any type of innovative implementation or adoption.

Which means that any inventive or innovative change will engage and diffuse differently from one organization to another.

Which is why re-invention should be seen as a necessary component in becoming a more creative and innovative organization. Especially as we consider embracing and engaging any type of invention or innovation. First, changes and tweaks are necessary during the adoption process. Second, we need to be able to own and understand the invention or innovation in a way that leads to successful acceptance and adoption.

Approaching any invention or innovation with this mindset, prepares people for the uncertainty and unpredictability that will occur during the process of experimenting, implementing, accepting and adopting.

As you consider the importance of reinvention, add to it the research of Berman and McLaughlin from Diffusion of Innovations, “Discontinuance happened less often because the re-invented innovations better fit a school’s circumstances. This investigation disclosed that a rather high degree of re-invention occurred. The innovations and the schools engaged in a kind of mutually influencing interaction, as the new idea and the school moved closer to each other. Usually, the school changed very little, and the innovation substantially.”

Which is something we have to weigh…

First, are we changing and re-inventing the innovation to own it and make it more our own to fit our needs and circumstances? Or, are we changing the innovation because we are unsure and unwilling to venture into the uncertainty and unknowns that it is taking us into?

We have to be very aware of both sides. To make sure that we are making and creating changes (re-inventing) for the right reasons. Not because of such things as avoidance…

The goal is to make sure that the invention or innovation is meeting the needs that exist in your organization, that it is solving the problem or issue you are facing. Sometimes we are afraid to tinker with something because we don’t want to upset the integrity of it. The problem is that, sticking to that mindset, we are adopting an innovation that does not truly provide the value we seek for the problem or issue we are trying to solve. We have to be willing to make necessary tweaks and changes in order that it does what we ultimately need and want it to do and accomplish.

So as you look to engage in any new invention or innovation, Everett Rogers provides several reasons in Diffusion of Innovation on why re-invention occurs:

  1. “Innovations that are relatively more complex and difficult to understand are more likely to be re-invented.”
  2. “Re-invention can occur because of an adopter’s lack of full knowledge about the innovation.”
  3. “An innovation that is an abstract concept or that is a tool with many applications is more likely to be re-invented.”
  4. “When an innovation is implemented in order to solve a wide range of users’ problems, re-invention is more likely to occur.”
  5. “Local pride of ownership of an innovation may also be a cause of re-invention.”
  6. “Re-invention may occur because a change agency encourages its clients to modify an innovation.”

As you look to make your organization more creative and innovative, don’t be afraid to upset the flow of an invention or innovation. Don’t be afraid to tinker, tweak, modify and transform an innovation to meet your demands and needs. It is not as much about the integrity of an innovation, as it is about providing the value you seek in solving a problem. Everything is a remix, so don’t be afraid to remix and recreate an invention or innovation to fit your needs.  Innovation is not just in implementing, it is about adopting.

Remember, any invention or innovation that does not add value, will not be adopted or accepted in most cases, anyway.

So, don’t be afraid to deconstruct, reconstruct, remix and re-invent.

As an invention or innovation circulates, flows and disseminates throughout your organization…don’t be afraid to make changes that best fit your people and organization. Too often, we fail to engage important innovations because we spend our time trying to force a round peg into a square hole.

Don’t be afraid to innovate your innovations.

“Recognition of the existence of re-invention brings into focus a different view of adoption behavior. Instead of simply accepting or rejecting an innovation as a fixed idea, potential adopters on many occasions are active participants in the adoption and diffusion process, struggling to give their own unique meaning to the innovation as it is applied in their local context. Adoption of an innovation is thus a process of social construction.”  -Everett Rogers Diffusion of Innovation


Where Are Your Dying Cows?

“Entrepreneurs, if you want to make an innovation that people will care about and value, look for dying cows. Show the people how to keep their cows healthy.” -Denning and Dunham ‘The Innovators Way’

Early in ‘The Innovator’s Way’, author’s Peter J. Denning and Robert Dunham share the story of Louis Pasteur and the Dying Cows.  As it goes…

The story takes place in the 1870’s in France, as a strange disease was decimating and killing off the sheep and cattle across the country. With no “conventional efforts” helping, the French Department of Agriculture pushed Louis Pasteur to become involved and help to solve this mystery and hopefully save the dying cows and sheep.

Pasteur did become involved which led to a vaccination that eventually saved the dying sheep and cows. From which the author’s share, “Pasteur became a national hero. Within ten years, anthrax was virtually eliminated from the French cattle and sheep industry.  Germs were no longer a theory; Pasteur’s methods produced dramatic results.”

The question then is, why is this important?

It is important because it gets at and to the core of innovation, and why or why not an innovation is accepted and adopted by people. Or as the author’s of ‘The Innovator’s Way’ share in the opening quote, you have to “look for dying cows.” The value and the acceptance of innovation is found in “showing the people how to keep their cows healthy.” Or as Denning and Dunham share, “People are often most receptive to a new technology when they are in the midst of a major breakdown that is causing severe economic or other distress.”

Too often, we base our innovative focus and efforts on creating something that is just new and novel, not whether it “keeps our cows healthy.” And when we do that, we can miss the main point of why we are trying to innovate.

Innovation and the ideas and creativity that spur it, must be focused on value. Innovation for innovation’s sake is neither helpful nor useful. Our creative and innovative juices are best utilized when they are applied towards solving a problem or problems that plague us, our people, our teams, our organizations, and our society at large.

When they are used towards “keeping our cows healthy.”

If you want to create and innovate in ways that make a difference in the world around you, make sure you know what and where your “dying cows” are, and what you can do to get them healthy.

References and quotes from…

Denning, Peter and Dunham, Robert.  The Innovator’s Way: Essential Practices for Successful Innovation.  The MIT Press, Cambridge.  2010.

Rethinking Linear Leadership For Creativity And Innovation

If the solution and the destination are determined up front, it leaves little if any room for creativity and innovation…

We live and work in accountability-driven systems. And for that reason, visions and endpoints proliferate our institutions and organizations. Our destinations have often been determined before we ever begin. Not that being outcome-driven is negative, but very often, the path to get to those outcomes has already been mapped out with excruciating detail before ever beginning the journey.

What we fail to realize, is that authentic creativity and true innovation seldom, if ever, occur in a linear fashion.

Too often, we begin with our answer decided, instead of a question considered. And while this controls the process and keeps every one marching in line to one end point. It does little to enhance the creative and innovative abilities and capacity of our people. The process becomes more about implementing, than learning, exploring, discovering and growing.

The more we determine a clear and direct path to one destination, the more often we diminish the creative and innovative thinking, abilities and capacity of our people and organization.

But moving away from this controlling way of operating is easier said than done, for several reasons…

  1. It rubs against what we’ve often been trained to do as leaders (create a vision and lead people towards it in the quickest, easiest and most direct route).
  2. It requires more messy, with a bit of chaos and disorder thrown into the mix (as leaders we have spent most of our training focused on creating neat, orderly, well-run machines).
  3. It will be more demanding, of your people and of your leadership (which goes against our natural inclinations as people and leaders).

As Hill, Brandeau, Truelove, and Lineback share in Collective Genius, ”Innovation requires a large investment of time, energy, and other resources, and leaders need patience and the willingness to learn and change course along the way.”

The problem is that most of our systems have little patience for the time and energy necessary to engage more creativity and innovation. We want it to happen, but we don’t want to put in the effort or hours necessary for that to actually occur.

Which is why it will take a different kind of leader to meet the demands of building up more creative and innovative organizations in today’s world. Or, as they share in Collective Genius it will be “the leader’s ability to navigate these paradoxes” that will ultimately determine if we can begin to unleash the creative and innovative abilities of our people.

“If you want a more innovative organization, you may need to change the way you lead.”  -via Collective Genius

What We Need To Understand About Innovation

Sometimes what we fail to understand about a thing, is that it’s not always the thing itself, that inhibits us from moving that thing forward…

When we begin to understand that innovation is as much about change as it is about the novel and new, we will be better equipped to move it forward, as individuals, teams and organizations.

And while this is but a small detail, it pays back in big dividends.

When we alter our lens. When we adjust our perspective. When we understand that innovation is much more than a novel idea or a new invention, we will be better prepared to approach innovation from a whole, rather than just in parts.

This altering and adjusting will ultimately determine how successful we are with innovation. It will determine our effectiveness in gaining not only interest, but adherents to our ‘new’. In the end, it will be our ability or inability to move people forward with an innovation, to push it towards a tipping point, that will determine the level of acceptance we achieve with any innovation within our organization.

What we often fail to understand, is that innovation is as much about power, as it is about the novel and new.

Think about it like this…

  • Innovation inevitably requires change.
  • Change tends to disrupt the status quo.
  • Innovation, in its disruption, transfers power.
  • Causing contention and pushback…adopters and resisters.

Which is a very important dynamic we need to acknowledge and understand as we move forward with any type of innovation.

Too often, we get so wrapped up in an idea, in the work of pushing forward with the novel and new, that we lose sight of this part of the innovation process.

We fail to notice the power transfer that can and will occur with the innovation. Which is a small detail with mighty ramifications.

According to Peter J. Denning and Robert Dunham, ”Social communities tend to strive for equilibrium and actively push back when someone proposes to change the system. Innovators must lead them past their natural resistance to change.”

As Denning and Dunham add, “One way to understand the tendency toward resistance is that proposed changes alter the configuration of power in the network.”

And it is not just that resistance will come, rather…

“It is important to anticipate where opposition will come from and make moves to neutralize it…”

When we understand that leading innovation, is also about leading change, we tend to put a new lens and a new perspective on the process. We begin to understand that people are not always adverse to the innovation itself, rather, the change that it invokes in their lives and their organization.

As well as the power shifts that it creates.  

Remember, innovation leads to change, change disrupts the status quo, which leads to power shifts, power shifts that create winners and losers in the process. And eventually, adopters and resistors.

Understanding and acknowledging this dynamic is vital. Sometimes we pull the plug on an innovation, thinking that people are not finding value in the ‘new’ when in fact, it is the change and disruption that is causing the pushback and disharmony.

Remember, the status quo will bristle and recoil continually throughout any change process. The important piece will be to determine if that recoil is due to the nature of the innovation, or due to the disruption and power shifts that the innovation is initiating. Which, in the end, will be vital to determining if the innovation is worth the time and action required to push it to acceptance levels.

Just remember to ask yourself these two questions throughout the process…

  • Is it the innovation itself?
  • Or is it the disruption and power shifts that are causing the resistance?

Determining the answer to those two questions will be imperative in moving any type of innovation forward.