Innovation talk from Rosabeth Moss Kanter

I subscribe to a number of blogs, including Rosabeth Moss Kanter’s on the Harvard Business Review website.  She’s not a daily poster – something this thoughtful can’t get slammed up there on a daily basis.   A recent post that I just got around to reading is on innovation and it matches up so perfectly with my recent post on John Hunt’s book that I had to pass it on.

Kanter is a business professor at Harvard.  She makes the point that innovation is trendy and everybody wants to do it. They just don’t want to do it first, they want to feel comfy while they do it, and they want all their innovative forays to be successful.  What surprised me was the idea that people at the top are more gung ho about innovation than the senior managers that report to them.  I’ll have to think about that one a little bit.

She also points out that encountering good ideas from unexpected places is jarring: one of Kanter’s Harvard colleagues has research that shows that this isn’t just an attitude, but an actual physiological phenomenon.  It takes conscious effort to get over.  Hunt’s book, The Art of the Idea, pointed out that ideas have no boundaries – they can come from anyone – and also that pulling together people of diverse backgrounds is inevitably a more fruitful approach then expecting a group of like-thinkers to come up with something new.  Diversity is the petri dish.

This can lead to a bias toward outsiders; the easy approach to diversity, as Kanter says.  But when I think of the consultants who take thousands to regurgitate the same old stuff they pried out of the same old brains onto the same old flip charts and PowerPoint presentations, I think there must be a fresher way.  Maybe a SWAT team of people with widely divergent backgrounds tasked with innovating around a particular challenge who work independently, or in small, self-forming groups, in a free-form approach, coming together on a regular basis to discuss and question…

More thought required here.

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