Innovation, Transformation and Learning

Innovation and Transformation

In The Myths of Innovation by Scott Berkun, there’s an important point I really love, which says:

The ​myth of ​methodology is the belief that a playbook exists for innovation and [that] it removes risk from the process […] And like other myths, this fantasy sells faster than truth…

Scott Berkun, The Myths of Innovation

In that sense, innovation in transformation happens not from process, but from meta-process. Not from frameworks and models, but from meta-frameworks and meta-models.

That’s because, at the end of day, innovation is so coupled with your organization’s leadership, operation, culture and your bottom line, so much that you’ll have to create a working model for yourself, even when you borrow great ideas from existing models.

Transformation happens in five major aspects of an organization: purpose, structure, process, function and culture.

Innovation relates to transformation in three significant ways:

  • Firstly, innovation as the outcome of transformation in organizational function and culture.
  • Secondly, innovation as the means of transformation in organizational structure and process.
  • And lastly, innovation as a critical narrative that we use to justify and explain transformation in terms of organizational purpose and culture.

Innovation as Outcome

When innovation is an outcome of transformation, individual learning lies in reflecting on how and why it happened.

The question to ask for developing a learning organization is — how might we incorporate the lessons learned from this innovative success to how we work, so that we can achieve further successes in the future?

My own work has been more aligned with this line of thinking. By going through transformation initiatives and by advocating a learning culture, we help people learn from that transformative experience, so that they’re better prepared in the future, in their next project and in the project after next.

Innovation as Means

When innovation is a means of transformation, we want innovation to be a catalyst of change. So individual learning needs to be directed by the priorities we have as a learning organization.

The key thing here is that, different types of transformation big and small need very different types of innovative success — there’s no one single way forward.

The implication is that the organization not only needs to transform this time or the next time, it also needs to become transformable, so that every time we have a higher chance of success.

In that context, a learning organization aligns our learning priorities with our transformation priorities, and individual learning never stops.

Most innovation labs and hubs from both public and private sectors are in that mode of working — innovative approach as catalyst.

Innovation as Narrative

When innovation is part of the narrative we use to justify or explain transformation — to executives, to middle management, to working level employees and to external stakeholders, etc. — both individual learning and organizational learning are relevant in terms of getting buy-in and communicating properly.

Innovation and Learning

In the context of innovation and transformation, formal and informal learning doesn’t necessarily differ, and that shouldn’t be a problem because to me, the problem is how they align with each other, especially regarding how innovation relates to transformation, as I described before.

Having worked in both private and public sector, I have to say I don’t see any significant difference. In both cases, the challenge is the same, which is how do we align individual learning and what’s required of a learning organization.


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