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Quo Vadis: Where does an innovative company go next?

David Straker

 

-- Introduction -- Level 1 -- Level 2 -- Level 3 -- Level 4 -- Level 5 -- Limitations/future -- References --

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Level 2: Enabled

 

Level no Level name Management style Individual approach Critical domain
2 Enabled Ignoring Skunkworks Near

 

In an organisation where innovation is Enabled, the basic culture contains rules that give permission to be creative, but provide limited assistance or direction with the task. This seems a small step, but it can have a powerful effect on the innovation within companies. Many significant innovations have come from unofficial projects where people were simply allowed to continue work on pet projects.

 

The ‘skunkworks’, popularised by Peters and Waterman is an example of enabled ‘official unofficial’ work, where people are allowed to work on projects either in their own time or outside of the main research activity.

 

“Last year a major corporate product bombed. A skunk works member asked for and got permission to take two samples home and set them up in his basement. He used one as a benchmark. He tinkered with the other for about three weeks and corrected virtually all of the flaws (with nickel and dime items), actually improving performance over original design specs by a factor of three. The president visited the basement and approved design changes on the spot.” 8

 

Skunkworks and indeed most innovation in the Enabled organisation seem to work largely through intrinsic motivation. As Kohn9 has shown, promised reward is neither a motivator nor any guarantee for innovative success. The impoverished conditions of the typical skunkworks seems to be an important ingredient for creativity. Finke et al.10 report on increased creativity when conditions are restricted and Fritz11 describes the power of creative tension as internally generated desire pulls people forward.

 

For such private projects to work, the domain of innovation needs to be close to the skills and interests of the people working on them. Innovating to order in more distant fields is neither of interest nor practical at this maturity level, where managers studiously ignore much innovation activity, allowing people to come up with ideas on their own.

 

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