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Innovation

The Paradox of Innovation and Structure


As innovation and design continue to move to the forefront of leaders agendas, the topic of who are the innovators and how do we find and develop them is becoming more and more important. Even more important is the exploration of the organizational structures put in place to foster and sustain them. And here is where the paradox starts to kick in; books, magazines, talks and anecdotes show us that organizational structures often stifle innovation and creativity. At TEDxBerkeley yesterday, several speakers indirectly pointed to this:

  • Carl Bass CEO of Autodesk believes that innovation is the result of individuals….it’s the individuals who break the rules. And create new ones.
  • Tapan Parikh of UC-Berkeley explained that the most innovative ideas came from “the people that no one wanted to talk to, the weird ones…on the edge doing their own thing.”
  • Tiffany Shlain, filmmaker, said it best “innovators need moxie.” For those of you who don’t remember, moxie means “courage and aggressiveness; nerve.” (from Dictionary.com)

Combing these three perspectives: An individual on the edge, doing his or her own thing with moxie. Yes….that’s a great definition for an innovator. The trouble is that that this kind of person doesn’t fit most organizational structures. So if this is the paradox, then we need paradoxical structures. Structures that open up, rather than contain. Approaches that liberate, rather than corral. Direction that is intentionally wide and blurry, rather than unintentionally narrow and clear.

These paradoxical structures of course would not fit well for an entire organization (I have no proof, maybe it would!) but for the creatives, the innovators, and the moxi-fied weirds big organizations could be their home.

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