Innovation – problem, idea, prototype, iterate.

ImageEveryone is talking about it. Businesses need it. The public sector needs it. Google has a lot of it. People are blogging about it (the irony isn’t lost on me here). It’s really big and disruptive, it’s iterative and small. Only some people can do it, while everyone can contribute to it. We all need more of it.


Over the past year I’ve studied innovation, read about how social enterprise/high-tech business/Apple/Samsung/GDS all bring innovation, been told to be more innovative, and written about innovation. It’s a huge subject, a lot of money is thrown at it, and it risks becoming perceived as the domain of the few.

Over the past weeks I’ve read a few things and had a few exchanges on Twitter that, for me, capture the essence of innovation. It’s not to say this is everything, but just that at its heart, innovation can be brought down to a few simple things and supported by a very simple process.

But what is innovation?

Its applied creativity. Its more than just an idea – an idea without implementation is just that – an idea. It usually comes from an idea that stems from a problem or a belief there is just a better way of doing something.

So where do these ideas come from – its hard to start innovating unless you have them?

In May the Guardian published an article by Rachel Burstein a research associate at the New America Foundation California Civic Innovation Project. She found that in local government strong personal networks help promote and develop ideas into innovations. This shouldn’t be a surprise to us. You only need to look at Silicon Valley. Yes there were skills, from Stanford Industrial Park, and yes there was money, from the defence industry. But critically there were social roots that fed the information technology revolution and allowed it to take hold. People knew each other, shared and pinched ideas.

So how do you apply those ideas and implement them?

After #ccbt @pdbrewer @reformattday @Heavy_Load @demsoc discussed how innovation is hard. Not the ideas part but the implementation bit. Recently Kirsty Elderton posted on the FutureGov blog her experience of working as a Prince2 practitioner and then also working with an Agile approach to developing a project. At its heart the development and implementation process can be simple. You have your idea, you kick it around with people, you prototype (and keep prototyping), then implement and continue to iterate. Makes sense doesn’t it?

But of it makes sense why can it be hard to do? As Kirsty says, there are ‘tensions’ especially in a world where often your commodity at work has been your professional background. The challenge is often that we have a lot invested in how we’ve always done things – some call it path dependency and I’ve posted about this before.

What’s changing, and arguably has been for some time, is that in a highly connected world needing new approaches to old problems, it’s not your professional background that matters – it’s knowledge and how this connects with others’ knowledge and creativity to promote and share ideas. That’s not scary – it’s common sense – and that’s innovation.


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