Innovation, inbuilt through an ecosystem
The arrival of the knowledge economy has magnified the role of Innovation in creating sustainable competitive advantage and performance. However, the attempt to bring innovation to the firm has largely been tilted towards mechanistic and process-driven approaches. There is an inherent belief that innovation can truly be managed through exercising some amount of control and deploying processes that get people to do tasks and activities in a defined manner that result in innovation. While holding some merit in putting structure to the madness, many times the focus on knowledge creation as an emergent outcome of human and social practices gets under emphasized. The true potential of a firm’s ability to innovate depends heavily on how the structure helps create social networks, both internal and external, and how it allows individuals to develop themselves. The likelihood of innovation goes up when innovation capacity is built through absorptive capacity and an inbuilt social mechanism is deployed for sense-making in an emergent form. Further, when people have freedom to operate in areas they want to operate in, and have the choice of tools and techniques with which they want to operate, the likelihood of innovation goes up.
Human readiness to create is a function of that individual, their background and competences, and cannot be easily configured through mechanistic processes. Knowledge creation is at first a human phenomenon and all firm-level interventions need to create the support structure that brings out the best in humans in a collective, collaborative manner. The human is a social, cognitive, and emotional animal that self-actualizes, adapts, and changes through interactions in shared spaces around them. The shared spaces can be seen as consisting of the Physical Space, Virtual Space, Social Space, and Mind Space, all of which are aligned by a common value system at the core. The value system creates a way of being and a spawns a culture that determines how people behave. By creating a value system that is aligned with the human traits that lead to creativity and innovation, we create a strong intent to innovate. And by creating the appropriate shared spaces, we create an ecosystem over time, which allows for the intent to be realized. Together, such coexisting shared spaces create an overall ecological environment within which a firm allows all its stakeholders to partake in the creation and exploitation of innovation capacity. In such an ecosystem, self-organized networks of self-actualized individuals become the fundamental way to create lasting value. By creating a distributed and self-organized sense-making system the firm becomes a fluid, agile, porous, and social enterprise, that is quick to sense, discover, and act in areas in which it operates. Overall, this creates a model of a firm that evolves together with its constituents, and overall creates an inbuilt mechanism for innovation. The future of innovation is in creating such natural, organic, ecosystems which people have a hand in defining, and are in turn defined by it. This inbuilt approach gives life to a firm and ensures that its very reason for being is to continuously create and innovate.