Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Accidental Innovation

Is Innovation always planned or is it merely accidental?

In their recent working paper "Accident, Innovation, and Expectation in Innovation Process," authors Robert D. Austin and Lee Devin explore the concept of accidental innovation, how it works or doesn't, and how good accidents can be encouraged.

Q: How important is the role of accident in the creative process? Does this happen often?

Part of the problem is that the word "accident" is rather imprecise; not all accidents are equally accidental. They propose a way of defining the "intensity" of an accident, by which we mean, roughly, how far outside intentions (and expectations) an outcome really is.

Q: Is there a way innovators can encourage good accidents? In other words, is there anything we can control to foster this process?

A: Artists think they develop a talent for causing good accidents. Equally or perhaps even more important, they believe they cultivate an ability to notice the value in interesting accidents. This is a non-trivial capability. Pasteur called it the "prepared mind."

In business, there's a saying that goes "if you don't know where you're going, any map will do." You can almost always get managers to nod in agreement with this suggestion that you might as well not start something if you don't have its end objective well defined. Working without a clear definition of your objective is considered wasteful, inefficient. But if you are trying to get outside what you can anticipate and see in advance, if you are going after the truly new and valuable, this way of thinking can be a problem. This is one truth about innovation that artists seem to understand a lot better than managers.

Interesting thoughts as Innovations may not be always planned. The best part is do we encourage such accidents to happen more often?

As Pasture called it “prepared minds” organization need to accept accidents as a process of learning as accidental learning has always been part of one’s learning curve.

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