Can we afford the anarchy of innovation?

Innovation is almost universally regarded as a positive force.  Anarchy is generally associated with destruction. So what do I mean by the anarchy of innovation?

The reality is that innovation implies change. In the context of established processes the introduction of new ideas, changes and fixes, particularly if on the fly, will create conflict. It can break repeatability. Worse, it can result in the delivery of differing experiences for customers which is generally not a good thing – consistency of experience is something customers expect and value.

However, when we’re preaching process improvement, a level of innovation is implied. Though we’re process specialists, we always stress the value of people - their ingenuity and experience contribute essential value to process execution and improvement.

Some people would suggest that innovation is in direct conflict with and can be crushed by over-controlled, process-driven cultures.

It doesn’t have to be like that. In fact, it really shouldn’t be. Our view of process tends to be skewed in quite the wrong way.

Imagine for a moment a process-driven culture. Did you picture grey people with a grey culture, constrained by pages and pages of roles and procedures? That’s a mindset that results in a perception of process as a separate documentation and audit activity, rather than one that sees process as a fundamental component of doing business.

We need our process knowledge to keep up with our creativity. And not only should it keep up with how we truly do things, we also need to share the ownership of know-how with the right people in the business so they can use this knowledge asset, challenge and debate it.

Yes - innovation can cause anarchy, but only if it isn’t managed. By establishing a platform for people to engage with process and make the case for change, innovation can be fostered. A voice needs to be given to those working within the process, allowing them to share their insights and ingenuity. That platform should facilitate the coordination and integration of changes and improvements. Its about harnessing innovation, rather than stamping it out.

Can it be done? Absolutely. Change the way you look at process – and it could change the way you look at innovation.


What’s your take on innovation and process management? Let us know in the comments below.

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