Creating Space For Emergent Innovation

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“Adaptive space is the network and organizational context that allows people, ideas, information, and resources to flow across the organization and spur successful emergent innovation.  It is not a physical space but instead is any environment — that creates an opportunity for ideas generated in entrepreneurial pockets of an organization to flow into its operational system.”  -Arena, Cross, Sims, Uhl-Bien via MITSloan Management Review How to Catalyze Innovation in your Organization

We often talk about the work of innovation being determined in the mindset, while approaching it in a much more physical than cognitive manner.  From strategic war rooms, to innovation and fab labs, incubators, accelerators, makerspaces, learning commons, as well as open, collaborative and co-working spaces.  And while these environments enhance our creative and innovative thinking, we still have to understand that the creation of the physical environment, without the deepening of the mindset, does little to invoke and initiate new thinking, new ideas, new systems and new actions that lead to the emergence of the truly novel and new for our individuals and organizations.

Or as Arena, Cross, Sims and Uhl-Bien share, “Emergent innovation occurs when entrepreneurial individuals within an organization incubate and advance new ideas for addressing needs and dynamically changing conditions.”

Which is our imperative as the work of professionals and the progress of our profession, to not only engage in and amplify what is considered as “best” practices, but to also create new knowledge, new ideas and new thinking that leads to our engagement of the “next” practices that lead us forward into the future.

It is in the informal, formal and intentional creation of these adaptive spaces that we provide the room for these new ideas and thinking to take form, to percolate and incubate in and across our teams and organizations.  In much the same way that Kotter’s work in Accelerate initiates the idea of a Dual-Operating System to create a parallel space and room for innovation to be engaged and infused into more static and hierarchical organizations and systems.

Or as Kotter shares, “Revolutionary innovation comes about when information from a variety a places that normally don’t collide do collide and a light bulb goes off.”  It is within this parallel space of hierarchy and innovation that an organization can determine the “Big Opportunity” that stands before them.

Or as Arena, Cross, Sims and Uhl-Bien put forth, “Adaptive space within organizations is fluid and can shift based on need.  Companies create adaptive space through environments that open up information flows and enrich idea discovery, development, and amplification.”

The creation of this adaptive space allows for an environment where new thinking and ideas have room to germinate, percolate and incubate.  But it does not stop there, for the diffusion and spread of these new and novel ideas requires diffusion of this creativity and innovation across and even beyond the organization.  For which necessitates these adaptive spaces serving as hubs and networks for continuous idea flows and idea pipelines, as well as the arena for intentional idea collision and remixes.  It is through these hubs and internal and external networks that the transmission and circulation of this innovative thinking and ideas are organizationally initiated and continuously diffused.  Allowing for greater awareness, promotion and availability for individual and organizational adoption.

Arena, Cross, Sims and Uhl-Bien add, “Adaptive space is needed to connect these divided channels and allow ideas to advance from the entrepreneurial (informal) to the operational (formal) system. Such adaptive space allows for networked interactions to foster the creation of ideas, innovation, and learning.”

It is within these spaces and the cross-pollinating of ideas across these networks that innovation begins to infuse itself into the normal organizational operating system and or systems.    Or as the Harvard Business Review shares in regards to Kotter’s idea of the Dual-Operating System“The new operating system continually assesses the business, the industry, and the organization, and reacts with greater agility, speed, and creativity than the existing one.  It complements rather than overburdens the traditional hierarchy, thus freeing the latter to do what it’s optimized to do.  It actually makes enterprises easier to run and accelerates strategic change.  This is not an “either or” idea. It’s “both and.” I’m proposing two systems that operate in concert.”

It is in creation of this adaptive space and systems that room for “AND” to not only occur, but to provide the organizational agility and nimbleness to move and capitalize on the innovative thinking and ideas that are growing and emerging in these parallel environments.  Today’s effective and healthy organizations are not only intentional in their design of these cognitive, as well as physical spaces, but allow room for what emerges within these spaces and processes to germinate, incubate, thrive and expand throughout these informal and formal networks so that innovation can actually diffuse effectively across the organizational landscape.

Building awareness of these spaces, these dual-operating systems and networks allows us to create a better vantage point to determine what’s emerging internally and external of the organization to better prepare the organization in the present for the future.

Without these spaces and room for new thinking and ideas, very few organizations truly tap into the full capability of their people, leaving much of their adaptive capacity and ability to continuously improve both individually and organizationally unrealized.

So, the challenge remains in how to increase organizational learning through these spaces or parallel systems and networks in ways that increase the idea pipeline and flows, both internally and externally for not only greater innovative capacity, but the ability to diffuse and cascade that mindset at all levels of the organization for a better future.

“The value of networks and adaptive space is that they enable influential people to tell stories about an innovation they are championing in ways that echo across the network. As these stories spread, others are attracted to engage, and the network of those engaged begins to include critical stakeholders, therefore enhancing the likelihood of organizational support for the innovation.”  -Arena, Cross, Sims, Uhl-Bien via MITSloan Management Review How to Catalyze Innovation in your Organization

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