I sought out innovation specialists and experts in complex collaborative behavior. I also embraced the concept of intersectional innovation, looking to other industries that seek abstract connections.
01. Innovation Specialist and UX Designer for Emerging Technology
The first innovation specialist I conducted an interview with was Jen, a UX Designer and Innovation Specialis at Consensys, a blockchain company. When inquiring about sources of inspiration learned that designers like Jen already naturally engage in intersectional innovation, spying solutions in other fields and contexts without the use of specific tools. Jen does not utilize a specific method for this–it seems innovators who constantly engage in creative, abstract, and divergent thinking processes already have low associative barriers. Jen also provided a key insight into the nature of innovative collaboration, finding that Zoom meetings lack the ease of connection that more easily facilitated innovation. She described a design studio that would spend thousands of dollars to gather teams in person rather than relying on strained video chats. Jen also emphasized the importance of play in innovation.
02. Intersectional Innovation Coach
I also interviewed Neli, an intersectional innovation coach. Until recently, Neli worked with the Medici Group, the business consulting firm that Frans Johansson created based on the success of The Medici Effect, the book which inspired my own interest in intersectional innovation. According to Neli, individuals in an organization are often reluctant to take on the additional work of participating in “temporary” teams whose specific purpose is innovating. She also recommended staying away from problems that involve rules and regulations or ones that represent a high risk as the innovation process requires flexibility. Regarding the brainstorming process, Neli recommended encouraging a large number of ideas, echoing insights from The Art of Innovation. Neli’s suggestions for innovation included a “random generator” of material for innovators to draw associations around, and ideally foster divergent ideas. She also suggested inviting “guests” from wildly unexpected contexts as part of the innovation team.
I then interviewed two experts in organizational complexity to:
1. gain insight into shaping processes, behavior and interactions to achieve intersectional innovation
2. explore creating a tool specifically to address complex problems.
03. Organizational Complexity Consultant
I interviewed two experts in organizational complexity. My purpose was twofold: to gain insight into shaping processes, behavior and interactions to achieve intersectional innovation and to explore creating a tool specifically to address complex problems. Curt, a Complexity Science Consultant for large organizations, suggested positive deviance and relational coordination, applicable concepts from complexity science. Positive deviance is the practice of identifying and learning from individuals or groups who exhibit exceptionally positive behaviors or successful outcomes despite facing similar challenges as others in their community. In the context of intersectional innovation, positive deviance can be used to identify and learn from individuals or groups who have successfully overcome specific challenges or developed innovative solutions which may be mapped onto challenges within other industries or contexts.
Relational coordination is a practice of prioritizing conscious communication and remaining collectively focused on a shared goal. Relational coordination can be used to build relationships and trust amongst collaborators, particularly if there are challenges resulting from differences in perspectives or communication barriers resulting from congregating a diverse team. Relational coordination can also help to develop an effective innovation team by fostering an inclusive environment through a culture of respect.
04. Hospital System CEO
The second expert in organizational complexity Robert, a recently-retired CEO of a network of hospitals who had spearheaded many complexity initiatives within his organization. sensemaking, which is the process of collaboratively creating meaning around shared experiences. Through this process, diverse teams can gain an understanding of the problem they face, whether it is complex or merely complicated. By creating a shared mental model of the problem, a team can work together toward a shared goal. I found this echoed in Liberating Structures with a quote from Lily Tomlin: “Reality is only a consensual hunch”(Lipmanowicz, McCandless 208). This concept helped inform the “Understand” Room of the workshop process, particularly in understanding diverse perspectives and identifying themes within the problem. Both complexity experts underlined the importance of an iterative process in addressing complex problems.
Testing the innovation strategy I was developing, I looked to other industries for potentially applicable solutions. I took the design challenge of “How can we facilitate intersectional innovation” and tried to consider what I was ultimately trying to achieve, which was: “How can we apply seemingly unrelated concepts to inform different contexts?”. I found an analogy in legal practices, as lawyers make abstract connections between law cases in order to create arguments.
05. Appellate Lawyer
I interviewed Jerry, a lawyer specializing in appellate law. Key insights from this interview included the fact that legal databases help facilitate these connections by providing a wide variety of filters and terms to access different cases. Jerry also frequently broadens or abstracts the basic concept to figure out which legal principles apply to his current case. He mentioned that Law School was one of the easiest times to find these abstract connections, as law students have classes from all areas of the law rather than remaining specialized. Mock trials bring in lawyers with outside perspectives to consider the case and provide insight to other cases that might have applicable precedents.