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the Big Blog Company | More than the sum of its parts
“Who yer callin' a sparrow, you schmuck?!”
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November 16 2004
Tuesday
More than the sum of its parts
Adriana Cronin-Lukas • Sui Generis • Trends 
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In September FT was doing a series of articles on innovation called Mastering Innovation. It is sponsored and so available to everyone. Yay!

There are several articles in the series that are a must-read for those pondering innovation and its mysterious ways. The article that got me most interested was called More than the sum of its parts and it basically explains, in a nice FT speak, all that magic of networks that we keep talking about here.

The challenge is no longer how to manage the business, but how to manage it within the wider context of networks. A network can be defined as a complex, interconnected group or system, and networking involves using that arrangement to accomplish particular tasks. This is especially relevant in the context of innovation which, at its heart, is about knowledge and combining a wide range of knowledge elements to create something new. Managing innovation is about bringing together different people and the knowledge they carry, and this involves building and running effective internal and external networks.

Precisely. And the $64,000 question is how to build and maintain those effective internal and external networks. There are many ways but very few actually work. What we are seeing in the blogosphere - the emergence, creation and diffusion of information, the good, the bad and the ugly fighting it out in the free market way is a phenomenon that can be understood, tames and replicated to some extent inside enterprises. Blogs are currently the most effective tool for connecting and networking that encourage innovation because they are based on the basic unit of creativity - the individual.  There is much to learn from the way of the blogs, which is evolving as we speak. On the one hand, this makes it a tremendously exciting area to be in, on the other, it makes it a very frustrating experience when trying to explain all this to companies. FT does a great job:

Why do we need innovation networks? One reason is that the innovation game has simply become too big and complex for any single player to handle. But it is also about exploiting potential - making the whole genuinely more than the sum of its parts. ...Increasingly, the issue is being seen not as one of knowledge generation (creating the ideas in the first place), but of knowledge flows (spreading and applying the ideas widely). Once again, this is a vital role for innovation networking.

The overriding message seems to be that future growth through innovation is increasingly going to depend on following E.M. Forster’s famous imperative: “Only connect”. Learning to do so effectively is going to be one of the key innovation management challenges, both for researchers and practitioners, for some time to come.

There are many concepts that are counter-intuitive to the traditional businesses such as “open innovation”, where links and connections become as important as the actual production and ownership of knowledge. Another one is the concept of emergence that I have been observing with fascination in the blogosphere and elsewhere, which is alien to many command & control enterprises. Acceptance of shared learning within a network is needed before companies can benefit from the network effect in their innovation and creativity.

All this is already happening in the blogosphere - lateral and random connections, links, emergence, shared learning and exchange. Combine that with speed and you have got a dynamic and chaotic place, not a tidy, managed network. It is a marketplace of ideas where the stuff that emerges is increasingly more innovative than what any one company achieves in the traditional top-down context. Cross-polinations of concepts, self-correction of errors and inconsistencies (over time and over the network), distributed expertise that can be brought to bear on a particular issue, these are the kind of processes that the blogosphere already produces even when at its most chaotic.

There is a way to harness this and apply it inside a company. We have developed three assumptions that make this process easier for us:

  1. Innovation and knowledge management is a human problem, not a technological one, no IT project will solve it
  2. Nothing was ever invented in a meeting - agreed, implemented, clarified and elaborated but not first invented
  3. Basic unit of a company is the individual, not process, department or even team
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