In a systems view of innovation events happen simultaneously, and for the most part uncoordinated. A systems view of innovation ups the odds for chance and luck to play its part in the emergence of new ideas and solutions. Thinkers like Nassim Taleb and Daniel Kahneman ascribe more agency to luck and randomness than to individual decision making and skill in stories of success. A healthy innovation system needs to spark randomness, building on a solid skills bedrock, to increase the likelihood of lucky events.
A first stab at an innovation systems model could look something like this. It all hinges around a sense of opportunity that attracts people. Next, buildings provide physical space for people to interact. But more importantly, buildings and location give context that inspire people to take action. People bring skills and new opportunities. All these components need the right proximity to each other – if the friction becomes too great the system will fail. If the proximity is optimal it becomes a virtuous cycle.
We need new skeletons
New systems can be conceptualised as new skeletons, with the aim of attracting new cells to eventually grow new muscles. Our current skeletons are outmoded remnants from the industrial age. Our aim should not be to change them, we need to create new ones while slowly disinvesting in the old ones. The purpose of innovation hubs is to create new skeletons. 1
A systems view of innovation.
In this model no single entity can own innovation, players choose where to participate and what to contribute without certainty of outcome or payback.
Organisations eager to join the innovation game need to make radical culture and mental model shifts, because they’ll need to become more open and outward focused. For big companies this means more risk. But without risk there can be no chance or luck, and no innovation.