Some thoughts on Innovation for 2021. Innovation, is the discovery of new ways of things working. When it come to the way things work, there is “order”, that which is known (at least to some) and is predicable (at least to some degree). And then there is “Chaos”, that which is unknown, and needs to be “explored” and tested, to see if there is anything we can learn, to see if we can formulate some new understanding, a new “order” (something known) out of the “chaos” (that which is unknown). “Order”, doesn’t suggest that things we know work well. It only suggests we know, or understand how they work. “Order” also doesn’t suggest that everybody understands the way things work - there are obviously degrees of understanding and competency, but the outcomes are more or less predictable. But it is in “chaos” (or the unknown) where “innovation” operates, or occurs. When we discover something we didn’t know, and we are able to understand and shape that lesson into something that can be replicated in some more predicable way in the future, or a new “order”, to be useful for us. The goal of innovation is not purely about creating “order”. It’s about the constant exploring of the unknown, or “chaos”, to keep making improvements in our understanding of how things work, so that we can keep improving the outcomes, or our predications of those outcomes. You could say “innovation” is a journey, not a destination. Living life purely in “order”, would be boring, and predictable – never improving, or only improving very slowly. Living life purely in “chaos”, would be too unpredictable, uncomfortable, unsustainable, prone to some potential catastrophic failure. And so, the optimal space for “innovation” to thrive and occur, is at the boundary between “order” and “chaos”, between the known and unknown, stepping into the unknown in controlled and sustainable ways, that provide the challenge, testing and exploration of ideas that can inform a new order. You might wonder or journey into “chaos” willingly, or unintentionally, slowly, or suddenly, but the goal should be to learn something, and get back to some “order”. As they often say in software development, “fail often, and fail fast”. Journey into the unknown, Learn something quickly, and then come back to the known, or ordered world, and apply the lessons. Make improvements in understanding, predictability and outcomes. And then go and venture again, into the world of “chaos”, and explore and try again. In the ancient Chinese philosophy, “yin and yang”, there is a concept of “dualism”, describing how seemingly opposite or contrary forces (like order and chaos) may actually be complementary, interconnected, or interdependent, and how they may give rise to each other as they interrelate with one another. So “Innovation” occurs in the “interplay” between order and chaos. And the message is “Keep Innovating”.
In this short video below, Dave Snowden explains the “Cynefin Framework”, which he developed in 1999, when at IBM. It is a management tool to help “make sense” of the context you are operating in (order or chaos), and also to help make decisions on what to do. In the framework, “order” is divided into “simple” and “complicated” order, and between “chaos” and “order”, there is a “complex” state, where chaos can be brought to order. And lastly, he describes a state of “disorder”, which isn’t the same as chaos, but rather a place where you have not yet understood which domain of the framework you are operating in. Hope you find this useful. Happy 2021.