The By-Product of Networks

“People working in innovation often refer to “the innovation process” as if producing an innovation was just one more business process that can be engineered for maximum efficiency. This traditional approach attempts to manage innovation as a linear “stage gate” process. This is often referred to as “over the wall” – meaning I did my bit, now I throw it over the wall to the next fellow to work on. Unfortunately this process mindset is problematic because it isn’t how innovation really works.” Verna Allee

This morning I found myself in another conversation about the importance of having an innovation process. Whilst I do like a nice flow chart and totally buy into the need to have a clear process, it is merely necessary but definitely not sufficient.

The paragraph on the right makes this point better than I could and comes from a really interesting post called Innovation as an emergent product of a value network. The rest of the article is quite theoretical but well worth a read and it goes on to make the case that innovation is an emergent property of a healthy network of innovators who all build on each others ideas with complementary technologies, which I think is a great insight which is not sufficiently well understood (including by myself yet).

Anyway, this point has also been reinforced to me recently as we launched our latest customer co-creation challenge with EON last Friday about Electric Vehicle Charging (see here). It’s been an amazing week and we’ve already had nearly 500 ideas submitted. And whilst it is structured as an innovation competition complete with prizes, what I find most fascinating is when members of the community members start discussing and debating ideas and in many ways taking ownership and the whole thing takes on a life of it’s own.

And whilst innovation is of course our bread and butter, I increasingly dislike the word in many ways, because it is something that everyone wants without quite knowing what it is. Perhaps we are all trying too hard and focussing on the wrong this. What if organisations stopped chasing innovation, but rather focussed on building engaged networks instead, we’d see the innovation as a by-product rather than an end in itself.


  1. Came here via Johnnie Moore. Thanks for the heads up – I will go and read the link you mention. There’s a missing “v” in the Verna Allee quote; this sentence – This traditional approach attempts to manage innoation as a linear “stage gate” process

Post a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.