Creative Abrasion: How To Build Innovation Into IT

A discussion about innovation reveals how far we've come and how far we have to go.
A discussion about innovation reveals how far we’ve come and how far we have to go.

While trolling the Internet over the holidays, I came across a write-up of the Unstructure Event held that was held Orlando, Florida, USA on 17 Nov & 18 Nov 2008.

Unstructure is basically a platform for open discussions on a wide range of business topics. They had a face-to-face meeting back in November. What caught my eye is that they spent some time discussing one of my favorite topics, IT and business innovation.

If you need a great quote on how IT leaders need to behave, you can always count on Nelson Mandela:

“A leader… is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go on ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind” – Nelson Mandela.

During Unstructure conference, Linda Hill from the Harvard Business School, ran a panel that included four panelists from companies such as Cisco, Powerwave, Smiths Medical and another academician from Carnegie Mellon.

The panel’s primary focus was on trying to answer the question “How can an IT department unlock innovation within the organization?”

Sure, a manger can tell / force the people who work for him/her to do things and that will cause things to occur. However, a true leader can create a world that people want to belong to, to harness talent and diverse slices of genius of people around who need to affirm individual identity and allow them to contribute to the larger goal. That’s the difference between a manger and a leader.

I think that Linda Hill hit it on the head when she said that: There is a need for collective work through creative abrasion, creative agility, integrative problem solving, sense of belonging and civic engagement. Amplify differences and leverage them as resources even though it does not feel good. A person needs to feel a part of a community to want to give them his/her slice of genius, else it makes them vulnerable.

Linda also said that: Innovation happens when artistry blends with Engineering. It takes both sides of the mind, and different disciplines or specialists working together to breed innovation.  When Imagination meets Engineering Precision, this makes for a positive impact and changes the way the world lives, works, plays and Learns.

From an IT point-of-view, the question is will technology play a role? We all know that the answer is yes! The next wave of innovation will be captured through collaboration and connecting ideas inside out and outside of the IT department.

As much as we’d all like to have our IT departments be known as being innovative, the question remains: how? Speakers on the Unstructure panel said that innovation cannot be nurtured in a streamlined process. An example of this was  the campaign run by Barack Obama in the elections where several new channels were used to run the campaign.

Good discussions all around – my hat is off to the the folks over at Unstructure. It appears as though it’s still not clear how we can transform an IT department into a smooth running innovation machine. However, we seem to be asking the right questions and we are making progress in working towards finding an answer that will work for us all.

Do you feel that your IT department is innovative? Do you have a way of using creative abrasion to make sure that nobody gets “too comfortable” with the way that things are? What steps are you taking to make your IT environment more open to innovative thoughts? Leave me a comment and let me know what you are thinking.

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