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IT Management: The Innovation Singularity

Innovation is often led by IT, but it must become engrained as part of the culture—not just another business activity.

Romi Mahajan

IT usually leads the process of innovation. World leaders in business and technology are unified in the idea that innovation presents the single most important mandate in the industry. Business and technology cycles are drastically shortened, multiple mobile devices proliferate rapidly, and economic models change in the course of months, not decades.

The ability for companies to create new value is the key to their sustainability. Further, this act of creation can’t be a one-off or even sporadic. This ability to innovate must be institutionalized—no matter how contradictory that phrase might appear at first glance.

Innovation Defined

The broadest definition of innovation refers to the creation of game-changing products, solutions or services. More specifically, innovation differs from “improvement” or “invention.” The structural change is inherent in innovation, as opposed to incremental change in improvement or invention.

Therefore, innovation is extremely difficult—it can’t be forced or faked. Changes in structure and paradigm rarely come about. It’s most often a result of a constant process of trial and failure that leads to incremental renovations. When you examine the sum total of those advancements, and when they finally run up against an insurmountable obstacle, that impels a tectonic shift that fundamentally changes the “playing field.”

While the term “innovation” is casually tossed about, it’s not surprising that few companies are indeed innovative. It’s certainly worth exploring why so few can break through. More companies could be innovative if they looked to IT to fuel innovation. Consider a new concept: The Innovation Singularity. This can serve as a construct for each of you as you strive to create real innovation in your IT careers.

Seeding Innovation

Organizations are inherently conservative, which is to say they seek to conserve—not change and extend. Why is this so?

  1. Organizations are hierarchies. Energy is spent preserving the status quo for those at the top.
  2. Organizations work people hard. There’s no doubt that innovation is a casualty of the “war of constant work” that afflicts the corporate world.
  3. Organizations are operated by people who think their institutions are “eternal.” Innovation is about disruption, fractures, ephemeral models and constant breakage with the past. It’s not about unchanging, eternal states.
  4. Organizations have a fundamental problem with knowledge transfer. Great ideas are often “dumbed-down” and destroyed by bureaucracy because they often originate on the shop floor, the occupants of which are disempowered and commoditized. Great thoughts are beaten to a pulp by middle management.

In examining these factors, it’s no surprise that innovation is rare. In fact, it cuts against the power lines in most organizations.

And yet some companies (and other types of organizations) are indeed innovative. Some companies do get it. Some molt their skin every few years and reinvent themselves. And they often do so with far less collateral damage than those that, when they find themselves in extremis, take drastic and myopic measures to “right” themselves. Those companies get the power of IT and understand The Innovation Singularity.

The Innovation Singularity is the process by which a company can create better products, solutions and services by the application of technologies and understanding of existing products, solutions and services. Implied here is that technologies and the intellectual corpus we get from their application are necessary for—and in some cases synonymous with—innovation.

IT is at the core of this singularity. IT is the one organization that consistently learns and deploys technologies. IT is the one organization that “learns” the most from the application of technology.

It really goes right to the heart of how innovation happens. Incremental change is a result of a constant feedback loop. Innovation happens when a fundamental rupture is called for and presaged by the limits of incremental change. In other words, change follows a constant curve. Innovation represents a discrete break with the past. These discrete breaks happen at the “systems level.” These systems-level changes are largely led by IT.

It’s the single most empowering—yet misunderstood—aspect of the IT professional’s life. Those in IT power innovation because a large percentage of innovation is IT-driven.

Innovation Exercise

To bring this point alive, take the following exercise. This may present a challenge, but can reap significant rewards:

Step 1: Make an “Innovation Map” for yourself. Codify your view of recent innovations within technology (or other fields). Postulate how you feel those companies (or organizations or individuals) achieved these breakthroughs. 

Step 2: Share this map with five peers from other parts of the organization in which you work. Ask them to codify their view of innovation. 

Step 3: Ask your peers to “double-click” on your assumptions and your views so as to discover what is at the essence of innovation. In other words, what is it they feel fuels and enables innovation? 

Step 4: Assess this versus the stated goals of the IT organization.

You’ll likely find a great deal of alignment between your views and those of your peers. You’ll also likely conclude that there are strong “IT elements” of each of your innovation scenarios. Through this process, you will not only have elevated IT to a new place in the minds of your peers, but also generated for yourself a clear view of the “process” of innovation. The Innovation Singularity can help you assign IT its rightful place as a driver of innovation for any corporation.

Romi_Mahajan
Romi Mahajan is president of KKM Group. Prior to joining KKM, Mahajan was chief marketing officer of Ascentium Corp. A well-known speaker on the technology and media circuit, he serves on a variety of advisory boards and speaks at more than a dozen industry events per year..

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