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Innovation bias and the myth of vacuuming

Joe Benesh is a Senior Architect with Shive-Hattery and President + CEO of the Ingenuity Company, a strategic planning, diagramming, framework development, and design thinking consulting firm.

Flipping a very simple concept around sometimes leads to the best conclusions. Sometimes taking a key piece out of something allows you to look at something in a completely different way. I submit the following to you for your consideration - you may not be able to innovate in a vacuum, but I believe you can innovate while vacuuming.

I read an essay in high school written by Igor Stravinsky on his attitudes about conductors. Stravinsky was not complimentary on the role of the conductor in the orchestra, and many rhetorical devices were conveyed to try and persuade the reader that the conductor of an orchestra served no critical purpose.

I disagree with Stravinsky, for a number of reasons. These reasons tie back to my feelings on innovation. I can follow the argument that the musicians in an orchestra follow their sheet music, and that those musicians are able to take cues from each other and stay in time. However, there needs to be a unifying element that draws everything together, acts as a foundation, and is there to prevent disaster from ensuing.

Music is one of the most innovative mediums in existence. Sounds are woven together in infinite forms and contain complexities that almost no other form of communication is capable of producing. But, unchecked, these sounds can detach from structure, move away from the symbiosis of an orchestra, and become noise. The conductor is there to keep innovation from running amok – the musicians must innovate within the framework of their leadership and the boundaries set forth by the music itself.

The conductor is facilitating “innovation bias” or structuring an environment in which participants can move freely within certain bounds, ultimately leading to a pleasing and productive solution. To attempt to innovate in a vacuum, in this case without the conductor, may yield positive short term results, but a more likely outcome is true – as more and more musicians “innovate”, the greater the chance of the music drifting toward noise.

When I vacuum, it makes a lot of noise, and I argue that there is a lot of innovation happening there. There are all sorts of hard to reach places that I have constructed any number and configuration of apparatus to reach, all with the end goal of leaving a spot just a little cleaner than I found it. These mini engineering projects take on a life of their own and my OCD is supremely satisfied with the outcomes of these little experiments. As ridiculous as this probably sounds, the unifying element is there, and I’m the one making sure the house gets clean; I’ve structured the innovation within the confines of baseline parameters and kept it on task.

Enacting parameters, setting specific frameworks, and generating a productive innovation bias is a sound (pun intended) strategy for keeping teams on task while allowing them to be creative within productive boundaries, and prevents discussions from becoming “noise”. Stravinsky was wrong; a conductor is a critical component of creating an ecosystem where music can flourish. What he was missing is the other part of the analysis – flipping something simple around to see how what is missing changes what is there.

 

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