Recombination is not enough

Yesterday, I’ve seen Adrian Ho’s post “Blending Skills in New Ways” over atZeus Jones’ blog. It reminded me of stuff that I read in organizational theory a few years back. Mostly, it reminded me that recombination is not sufficient for innovation.

Instead, it is a productive friction between multiple perspectives that secures continued adaptation in the face of complexity. While Joseph Schumpeter did say that innovation is recombination, he also said that innovation is deeply disruptive of the things that we, as professionals, take for granted in our work. This means that the more disagreements and disruptions we can create in our organizations, the better off we are.

Why is this the case?

More often than not, we start client’s challenges these days without really knowing in advance what the solution will be. We also don’t know which solution will succeed. This is because we are not addressing a specific, neatly formulated problem — we are addressing the whole complex brand’s environment.

Innovation involves bringing together incompatible and diverse points of view, and this process is not harmonious. Every time there’s a successful recombination (think Twitter, for example: it’s a combination between people’s tendency to lifestream and a txt-like technology), it is only because the technology and strategy worked from the starting point of their differences. The Twitter team didn’t know what they will come up with, simply because they didn’t in advance formulate the problem as “let’s make Twitter.”

If they did, then the question of innovation would be the one of mere implementation — which is what people who are savvy in both strategy and technology do: they are capable of implementing their ideas. But, these days, we need a hell lot more than just implementation.

So, rather than altering your production staff or replacing your strategic resources, it’s better to let them keep their differences and make them interact as much as possible. In the resulting productive friction reside solutions for the complex problems.

Originally published on December 18, 2009