In today’s world of on-trend-business-vernacular, the word innovation is exhaustively used as the solution to all things disruption related. From professional services to retail, the same terrifying mantra prevails: innovate or die! Whilst this may be true, people need to get that innovation doesn’t just happen because someone says it should. Rather, innovation is precluded by a set of catalytic conditions that inspire fresh thinking and novelty.
When it comes to human systems, relationships are considered mission critical to creating conditions for innovation:
Through influential interactions, which are happening all the time in every corner of the organization, novelty emerges and is enacted in unique and surprising ways. This means that the true catalysts of innovation are the web of relationships – in the nexus of the interactions – that connect members to each other and to others in the environment. (Goldstein, J., Hazy, J., & Lichtenstein, B., 2014. Complexity and the Nexus of Leadership, New York: Palgrave McMillan, p. 2)
In Systems Theory, this kind of interaction occurs in what are called ‘open systems,’ or self-organising structures that allow for the free flow of information and energy between internal elements and the environment.
Relational neuroscience expert, Dr. Dan Siegel, describes relationships as the doorway through which information and energy flows into and out of open human systems. Siegel asserts that with more flow comes higher degrees of complexity (consider an organization that grows from 100 employees to 1000 in 18 months). He also suggests that complexity is nothing to be afraid of. In fact, those who embrace complexity with a curious and inquiring mind are more likely to communicate effectively, think creatively and be coherent decision-makers.
So why do some people embrace complexity with ease, and others with white knuckles?
It takes Design Thinking to embrace and even thrive amidst complexity. Tim Brown, president and CEO at the Design and innovation firm IDEO, defines Design Thinking as, “a human-centred approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology and the requirements for business success.” Stanford University’s late design icon, Rolfe Paste, framed it as a, “formal method for practical, creative resolution of problems or issues, with the intent of an improved future result.” All agree, Design Thinking is a mindset - a way of thinking, feeling, being and doing - that responds to complexity, uncertainty and change with empathy and wonder.
Top 10 Hallmarks of Design Thinking:
1. A refusal to state the problem in order to facilitate maximum discovery
2. Welcoming breakdowns and failures rather than defended against them
3. Balancing exploration AND outcome
4. A preparedness to “kill your little darlings” i.e. hold prototype lightly
5. An embrace of vision with hunches and exploration before execution
6. A readiness to blow things up vs. putting more control on them
7. Inviting mystery and allowing innovative patterns to emerge
8. Forgoing all assertion of absolute certainty
9. Letting go of perfect exactitude as an expected outcome
10. Treating what is unknowable with curiosity and wonder
Journey with me and my new blog series, Innovate or Die!, an in depth look at how complexity theory and Design Thinking are facilitating innovation amidst 21st century VUCA conditions.