In a basic sense, innovation boils down to an evolution like approach that sees a steady stream of small improvements versus a revolutionary approach that sees huge, intermittent leaps in performance. This post isn’t to debate the merits of each approach as much as to explore the different management styles required to function in both scenarios.
That was the question posed by a recent paper exploring what commonalities and differences each approach presented. Lets start with the similarities.
Central to both approaches was the fact that it was a collective endeavor, and therefore leaders should not so much look to provide the solutions themselves as much as develop the capabilities of their team to do that. It’s a form of collective and informal learning that’s very difficult to stage manage, and must therefore be left to people to do on their own steam.
Of course, what leaders can do is provide the environment by which such interactions are facilitated. This could be by ensuring mutual trust is present in the workplace and a healthy amount of communication and support between staff.
To explore how different norms facilitate the different forms of learning, the author uses flock modelling to simulate relationships between agents.
The approach found that people tend to relate to one another based on the core norms of the group. For instance, some teams place a lot of value on being unique, which then plays itself out in the creation of original ideas and the questioning of the norm.
Likewise, if the group norm is based upon strong communication, there is a greater readiness to speak up and learn from our peers.
This sense of originality and communication are two of the core norms present in group dynamics, with the third being our readiness to form a group a consensus.
So, how do these norms differ in the two innovation styles? The biggest difference is in the consensus forming norm. When there was a weak consensus forming norm, the groups tended to favor the iterative and more predictable approach to innovation. When this consensus norm was stronger it was more likely to provoke unpredictable innovation.
The author suggests this is due to the tension that forms between being unique and forging a consensus. This tension was found to be crucial in generating those transformational ideas.
This will hopefully help you in your role as a leader in crafting the kind of environment that supports the kind of innovation you want to see. If you want continuous innovation, then work on building an environment whereby employees feel free to reject (or not) the ideas that are continuously generated and communicated by their peers.
To develop a more transformational environment, try and create a culture whereby employees feel a strong need to forge a series of shared interpretations of the ideas that they’re generating and sharing amongst themselves. It’s this process of winning over their peers that ensures that ideas get modified and tinkered with, and thus innovation is born.