Innovating at the Seams

SEATTLE – June 20, 2013

Innovation at seamsThe June 2013 Ignite Innovation forum was a rich conversation with a brilliant group of women business leaders discussing the topic of “Leadership of Innovation”. Jean Brittingham, COO of Katerva introduced the concept of “innovation happening at the “seams”. This metaphor provides us a way to think about innovation as a natural process of evolution found in nature where many different species and voices come together at the edges of the forest to create something new.

In the middle of the forest, Jean stated, the environment becomes stable and often too homogeneous to produce new thriving growth. In the way of big forests corporations can become barren of innovation. But they can create fertile “seams” for innovation by mixing the internal and external stakeholders for diversity of perspectives.

This nature metaphor plays in Katerva’s leadership model, where leadership is “creating the culture where things can thrive,” just as water and sunshine nurture growth in nature. Jean suggests we ask ourselves: “How am I as a leader, wherever in the organization I might be, bringing ‘sunshine and water’ to the diversity that needs to thrive?”

What is your “sunshine” and “water” you bring to the organization either as its leader or as an external consultant or resource?

Sharon Wong, Director of Business Incubation at Cisco Systems, said that in a technology company like Cisco, technology is the least of their challenges – that’s what they are the best at. “The hardest part of innovating is to figure out how to take it to the market,” Sharon said. She also claimed that the most challenging task is to develop organizational capability with the right skillsets in order to deliver to the market.

I believe it is no different for the smaller non technical firms – or any innovator for that matter. As long as the invention “stays home” it is not an innovation. Only after it has been shared with a particular community – or the world – where it provides a solution, scaled and sustained has the great idea become an innovation. And that’s where the rubber hits the road; because it is so challenging, only few ideas become innovations.

What’s the hardest part of  your innovation process?

Watch the whole Ignite Innovation Forum conversation about leadership and innovation with a wonderful round table of conversationalists here.

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