Innovating Innovation

The title of this collection of musings reflects a personal predilection to observe, understand, synthesize, theorize and model the way that organizations and individuals create new to the world artifacts in whatever variety is open to the human imagination. Personal observation and direct involvement in innovation over a long career has led to a degree of skepticism about ‘conventional’ views of innovation and an admitted bias towards the sciences of human agency as the source of insight into how we, as a species, innovate and why. It is through understanding the motivations of why, and the mechanisms of how, we both create and adopt new things that we know enough to create the new innovation processes, methods and tools that will be effective. This is a constant and unrelenting effort and it is what we do as we innovate innovation.

The working hypothesis, and it is just that, underpinning this collection of musings is that the well documented and observed exponential acceleration of all sorts of economic, technological and social phenomenon (Kurzweil, Arthur, Beinhocker) is due, not just to the fact that we, as a species are innovative, but it is due to the fact that we constantly innovate the way we innovate. It is this second order innovative capacity that puts the accelerator to the proliferation of technologies, artifacts and demands that creates the dynamic that we are all experiencing.

Some people have observed and commented on this second order phenomenon. In 2006, Phil McKinney of HP commented in a podcast that Level 3 organizations focus on the Innovation of Improvement – i.e. they focus on improving the way a company improves itself. More recently, Michael Schrage posted a list of the Top Six Innovation Ideas of 2011 that hint at this same theme – innovate the way you innovate. In general, however, this phenomenon, that humans don’t just innovate, they also innovate the way they innovate, has been in the background – widely practiced but not explicitly discussed.

It is appropriate to note that this concept, innovating the way you innovate, is fundamentally different and distinct from the widely practiced 6-sigma efforts that have swept global enterprise. Six-sigma is about constant improvement toward known process objectives. Innovating Innovation is about creating new process objectives. It is about changing the game, discovering new outcome and performance dimensions and changing the metrics of measurement. Innovating innovation involves setting up a mechanism to adapt internal processes to the changes occurring in the dynamic demand space of the community. Continuous variation and selection of innovation processes, methods and tools creates new innovation capabilities and behaviors which drive organizational changes to match the dynamics of the ecosystem they operate in. Because the ecosystem is changing so rapidly, organizations that do not adapt, or in other words do not innovate the way they innovate, will be left behind.

Some examples of innovating innovation over the past decade are  explicit and have been named – Open Innovation, Voice of the Customer, Blue Ocean Strategy, Design Thinking, Business Model Innovation – these are all names given to a new genre, a new approach, a new perspective, a new way of thinking and acting focused on bringing new artifacts into the world. Other examples are more internal and subtle – Scouting, Ethnography, Iterative Deepening, Technology mapping, Community Building and Engagement. Once these memes and basic mechanisms are established, 6-sigma can take over with its constant improvement. But it is the process of coming up with the next innovation paradigm that is of the most interest because that is what is going to continue the exponential curve of change.

If you are doing surveys and focus groups the same way today that you were doing 4 years ago, you are failing to innovate innovation. If you are exploring for new opportunities the same way you were 4 years ago, you are failing to innovate innovation. If you are getting your new ideas from the same places you were 4 years ago, you are failing to innovate innovation. If you have the same organizational structure for your front-end team that you had 4 years ago, you are failing to innovate innovation. If any of these situations apply, you are falling behind. The community is changing faster than you are.

How long can this pace of change go on? Will there ever be a time when we can say that we have mastered the innovation process, when the exponential pace of change slows down and we know that what we are doing can be permanently systematized? Probably not. The nature of innovation itself prevents this from happening. The positive feedback loop between the Design Space of the Technium and the Demand Space of the Socio-economic sphere will necessitate us constantly innovating our innovation capacity. This is what makes this space so exciting – and demanding. Hopefully, this collection of musings will provide some insights.


Get a free strategic innovation infographic when you join 10,000 professionals who get our newsletter.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Access through Inovo’s Innovation Asset Repository

You currently have access to the repository, please download below.

Contact Us

Call us at 1-888-464-6686 or email us at

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.