. . . such that the innovation train does not go past.
Usually, it is not an accidental or great idea of an employee igniting an innovation process. Rather, an innovation process often starts with an external irritation. The irritation can be an intensification of competition through increasing international networking or an accumulation of customer complaints. Further impulses are ever more individual customer requirements or technical innovations and developments.
Not only market changes but also social changes initiate innovations. Any organization must respond to government demands such as environmental requirements, social developments such as demographic change, and environmental needs such as resource efficiency with new or improved products and services.
The beginning of an innovation is a sensitive process like the emergence of a crystallization seed. With the following quote from Dewey1, we will see why an impetus for innovation is nipped in the bud.
“It is more or less a commonplace that it is possible to carry on observations that amass facts tirelessly and yet the observed “facts” lead nowhere. On the other hand, it is possible to have the work of observation so controlled by a conceptual framework fixed in advance that the very things which are genuinely decisive in the problem in hand and its solution, are completely overlooked.”
Irritations must be perceived as such. But first, there are only facts and observations. These can be collected tirelessly without leading to anything. They only become a stimulus for innovation when at least one employee realizes that they are a sign of change (and can be heard). For this particular way of listening, we have apt descriptions in our language: “Keep your ear at the ground.” Or, “Hear the grass grow.”
But what does this kind of listening consist of? Here, I would like to attach the second part of the Dewey quote1:
“The way, and the only way, to escape these two evils, is sensitivity to the quality of a situation as a whole. In ordinary language, a problem must be felt before it can be stated.”
Not only business leaders and market strategists, but every employee of a company should have this ability. Because the bandwidth of the ‘receptors’ plays a role here. Diversity increases the potential for irritation. The more different the eavesdroppers are, the smaller the chance is that blind spots will prevent individuals from recognizing the signs of the organizational environment as change impulses. I will describe in a next post how the “sensitivity to the quality of the situation as a whole” can be improved or even learned.
1John Dewey, The Theory of Inquiry, New York 1938 (70).