Saturday, January 30, 2010

Innovation and the accidental nemesis

If you're not a regular reader of BusinessWeek you may have missed the January 14th missive in their regular Innovations column. Here we have one that is close to the heart of many project managers: the accidental nemesis to a really new-to-the-world idea, or as the authors put it: the 'accidental enemy'

In their column, entitled "Innovation's Accidental Enemies", authors Roger L. Martin and Jennifer Riel , academics at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto , posit that too many executives manage when they should lead: to wit, they rely too often on inductive and deductive reasoning.  They fail to embrace abductive reasoning when confronted with a never-done-before idea for project excecution.  In doing so, they become the accidental enemy of a radically new idea.

What, say you, is abductive reasoning?  It's the third leg of inductive, deductive, and abductive reasoning.  One only needs to search a bit in Wikipedia to get the ideas.

Inductive and deductive reasoning aligns rules and data--either one or the other begets the other--a traditional manager's view of putting the enterprise's rules with the situational facts.  Nothing wrong with that---some of my best friends are inductive or deductive reasoners--but even though one or the other works well in many situations, they don't always work when innovation is the order of the day.

Innovative ideas many times do not comport with established rules.  That lets out deductive reasoning.  Innovative concepts are often free of facts and seemingly lack cohesion and coherence among the available data.  That lets out inductive reasoning.

Abduction is reasoning through, or postulating, or hypothesizing that seeming unrelated facts or ideas indeed do connect.  Haven't we heard endlessly about connecting the dots?  Well, having a skill, and a tolerance, for the emergence of a new idea by abductive reasoning is key to having visionary foresight.

The genius of innovators is not to let their management impulses overwhelm their instincts to inspire, motivate, and empower.

Recall this witicism from Rear Admiral Grace Hopper [esteemed software leader who, among other things, invented the 'bug']: "Things are managed; people are led"

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  1. Interesting post John! I often hear the phrase "I can't manage what I can't measure." (Thanks Tom Demarco! Demming has a bit to say on this too.) Yet we do this all the time! From Jorge Aranda's blog quoting Robert Glass:

    “The problem with the saying “you can’t manage what you can’t measure”—what makes it a fallacy—is that we manage things we can’t measure all the time. We manage cancer research. We manage software design. We manage all manner of things that are deeply intellectual, even creative, without any idea of what numbers we ought to have to guide us. Good knowledge worker managers tend to measure qualitatively, not quantitatively.”

    We've even seen Tom DeMarco questioning this statement.

    I think we need to balance leadership, management and metrics when we approach innovation.

  2. Chad: DeMarco's paper is a good read; thanks for the reference. The quote about measuring and controlling comes up in a lot of blogs, especially now with the emphasis on Agile and distributed control to implementation teams.

    Nevertheless, I still like RAdm Hopper's idea which even DeMarco in his paper seemed to agree with: people are led to values and instructed on principles; they acquire beliefs from experience and experimentation. The things people do as a consequence of their values, beliefs, and principles are manageable, and mostly measurable. But I really don't believe you can legislate innovation: you can only manage the environment--whether cancer research, intelligent computing, or other--within which creative and innovative expression can appear.... like the big-bang of creation....who really knows what the origins are of a new-to-the-world idea?


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