From cosmic dust to innovation: proving the invisible
Jack Selman, IKE fellow and innovation coordinator at infrastructure engineering specialist Murphy, discusses the sometimes invisible, but always vital work of innovation teams.
Innovation is nothing more than a cosmic cloud of stellar dust particles. Each particle represents significant untold potential. One day, it may form part of something much greater than itself. A collection of particles has a greater combined value than the sum of their parts.
The landscape of industrial innovation is a sparsely populated, nebulous cloud of space dust. Each opportunity is impressive in isolation, but to derive further value from each one they must be connected, interwoven, and inexorably intertwined to both one another and their surrounding environment.
For larger corporations, there is more space dust. More opportunities, but spread across a greater expanse, with more work required to coalesce them. With no guidance, no support, no empowerment and no enablement, these opportunities remain unconnected and desperate.
"Innovators, change agents and disruptors are the external forces acting on this cloud of dust, which slowly pulls it all together."
The First Law of Motion states: "A body at rest will remain at rest, and a body in motion will remain in motion unless it is acted upon by an external force." This simply means that things cannot start, stop, or change direction all by themselves. It takes some force acting on them from the outside to cause such a change.
Innovators, change agents and disruptors are the external forces acting on this cloud of dust, which slowly pulls it all together. We take each of these opportunities at rest, connecting and coordinating them to deliver greater value. Like the clouds that gradually consolidate, the initial phase requires substantial energy and time. As the cloud begins to fold in on itself as the particles gravitate toward one another, the rate of connection accelerates. Each particle connects to one, then more particles, and they take on greater mass and speed.
"Innovation teams guide, support, coordinate and develop in a manner that may be difficult to observe; however, the effects of a capable innovation team are evident."
Innovation, like gravity, is difficult to directly observe. Indirect observation is often the way - I cannot see gravity, but I can see the effects of gravity. Innovation teams guide, support, coordinate and develop in a manner that may be difficult to observe; however, the effects of a capable innovation team are evident: As the cloud pulls together and speeds up, a planet forms. It is an interconnected network of individual particles that form a body of mass, similar to a well-connected network of opportunities.
The real value lies in the potential of that consolidation; the life that is now able to develop and thrive as a result. The mass of the solar object remains essentially the same, yet the value increases because of the ability to support life that consolidation has enabled.
The same is true of strategic innovation initiatives: there is intrinsic value within each opportunity, which increases once opportunities are connected and linked to one another. The real value lies in a network of opportunities that is so well managed that their mere connectedness gives rise to additional, brand new, radical opportunities.
"Only through a solid, comprehensive innovation capability are we able to either survive the event, or better yet translate it into an equally significant opportunity."
This connectedness also allows the mass to stand the test of time through periods of uncertainty and turbulence.
Be it a meteorite named ‘Brexit’, or an asteroid from the galaxy of ‘recession’, these are to be expected and we can be comfortable knowing we have the mass of collaboration and the force of industrial innovators to maintain those bonds and sustain progress. Only through a solid, comprehensive innovation capability are we able to either survive the event, or better yet translate it into an equally significant opportunity.
It is difficult for life to thrive across a spare cloud of space dust, and it is difficult for true innovation and collaboration to thrive across a discordant business. However, as the cloud forms into a solar object, it creates an environment that is complimentary to growth and new life. Just as innovation programmes take time to knit together the intangible and fleeting opportunities of a business, they eventually give rise to a culture that encourages and rewards new, unique opportunities that are harmonious with strategic direction.
Featured image: “Chaos in Orion”, courtesy of NASA