In a past post I explored into scenarios and innovation in great depth (see How Does Scenario Planning Help Drive Innovation).
I was reading a piece in the Financial Times called Another Way of to develop ideas (on the web as Another form of creative thinking) which looked at practices for Open Innovation. It does not mention scenarios. I think this is a critical mistake. Now, the article is a 3/4 page piece, so it can’t cover everything, but at least the diagram should include a hint, a pointer. It doesn’t.
Why is this important?
Open innovation by its nature, exists in a context free space. I don’t imply that the individual contributors each have their own context, but that the inputs don’t have a consistent context. If the firm engaged in open innovation does not have a robust framework to create a shared context for the incoming contributions, then they will fail to leverage those contributions to their maximum potential.
If, for instance, a company is eliciting responses for new user interface designs, and it has one future in mind where people are using gaming interfaces to fly through data and interact with applications that future becomcones their contextual bias. They will only recognize solutions that reinforce this bias. If, however, that same firm uses scenarios to imagine a range of possible futures, each with unique assumptions about user interaction, they will be more open to truly innovative inputs because they will have reduced their bias toward preconceived notion of the solution. This later example could yield radical departures even from the scenarios. The scenarios primed them to allow for a range of possibilities, and that range, when used best, is one that can continue to expand as the organization learns.
The Learning Organization
Organizations that use scenarios are learning organizations. The cannot help but be, because they are supported by a rich, exploratory process that unleashes the constraints of bias. It might be argued that Open Innovation would create a great learning opportunity because so many inputs will be streaming in from so many places that something interesting is bound to turn up. That is true, but it does not mean that the organization will recognize or accept the ideas. Organizations that claim to be innovative often see innovation only through a narrow lens, and would discount many of those ideas because:
- We can’t do that here
- It’s too expensive
- That won’t fit with our current product mix
- Our customers won’t accept it
And myriad other excuses for not being innovative.
Learning organizations suspend their bias when it comes to innovation. Scenarios are a great tool for helping them confront their bias directly, and then move beyond it, so they can be open to the ideas that their partners, their customers, and their employees offer.