Ghost innovation

Ghost innovation

This is part of a map plotting various planned but unbuilt subway lines in New York City. Reading it unveils an understanding of past strategies, plans, and objectives that became abandoned due to budget constraints, maintenance priorities and other demands that diverted and then buried the vision. Reading it inspires an imagination of the world that could have been, of a society that might have developed differently, of connections that might have had value but were lost through an inability to efficiently and effectively connect.

Stranded innovation

It reminded me of a recent client, a major consumer products manufacturer and marketer who held what they called a “stranded innovation fair.” It was their belief that, regardless of the circumstances for the loss of attention to or development of these innovations with our application, they might have real value in other contexts, times, combinations or applications. The more that people in the company were aware of these ghost innovations and technologies, the greater would be the potential of their eventual application and productivity.

Hidden talent

In a similar context, some companies are experimenting with rich profiles of the people in their organizations and utilizing certain social media applications to promote those profiles to others in the enterprise. There are people in most organizations with valuable skills and capabilities that are overlooked in the usual day-to-day of operations, or who may have some special skill buried deeper in a resume and unexploited in their current job description or project assignments. By circulating those profiles or using other means to communicate them, these organizations are better able to match the right people with the right projects, achieve goals more efficiently, and gain competitive advantage through otherwise overlooked internal skills and talents.

How can the design of the workspace contribute?

Imagine the potential that lies inside of an organization that is for many reasons consistently overlooked. More interestingly, imagine the power of an organization that has the insight to look back, or look deeper, or promote ghost innovations differently.

Technology may be the more powerful tool for uncovering and developing ghost innovation, but imagine the potential of a more social workplace, as well. How much of knowledge and potential, of skills and innovations, are lost each day due to the inability of people to connect efficiently, to observe others, to understand weak signals, to join a conversation with others.

In their book on the organization and architecture of innovation, Allen and Henn point to the power of work spaces designed in way to support our awareness of others and to increase the potential for our connections with each other.

We think this is the defining challenge for our time.

How can the design of the workspace contribute?

Think big – Grand visions are connected visions. They illustrate for others a path to future development and value, and tend to garner greater support. Even if the final accomplishment falls short, the grand vision leaves “remnants of foresight” that provide others a way to interpret and extend intentions and uncover latent value at the appropriate times.

Redesign the organization before redesigning the workspace – The traditional lexicon of the corporation – organizational charts and individual job descriptions – do not describe the way that work is really done today. If you believe that teamwork and collaboration are the key to higher organizational performance (and they are) then design the organization around those attributes. That redesign will generate a new lexicon of organizational form that the planners and designers of the workspace can leverage for high performance through great work experiences.

Make visible the artifacts and activities of network connections and collaboration – As with the organization, the workspace has to speak to teamwork if collaborative cultures are to flourish. The traditional lexicon of the workspace, like that of org charts and job descriptions, perpetuates forms that are about individuals and managerial controls. The creative workspace is an open and networked space, where team activity and process flows are visible, and adaptable and agile to the dynamics of projects.

If there is any single rule that guides our work for organizations seeking enhanced performance and higher levels of innovation, it is this – Make it visible.

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