Improve Your Ecosystem’s Ability to Tackle Complex Issues


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There Are Basic Principles We Should Be Applying to
Improve Our Capacities to Innovate

Peter Horne, one of Patty’s Pioneers, often reminds us that
there’s a difference between complex problems and complicated
problems. Complicated problems can be decomposed into smaller chunks
and dealt with in sequence or in parallel. Complex problems are
more systemic in nature. You have to tackle them as a whole
integrated system. In outside innovation, we’ve learned that it’s
important to get a lot of different perspectives from people with
different skills and expertise (and mental models). We’ve also
learned that the more open and transparent this process is, the faster
and more productive are the cycles of insights, experimentation,
application, and rework.

, the master of the creative orientation, reminds us that
problem-solving is a limited way to address any complex issue. If
you focus on solving a problem, you are putting blinders on that
keep you from the flashes of insight that lead to true creativity.
Robert and other successful creators and innovators use structure
to enhance creativity. They create what Robert calls “A Path of
Least Resistance” to spawn creativity: Focus on the outcome you
want to attain (including all of the qualities surrounding that
outcome). Focus on the current reality – the ground truth, as
others refer to it. Commit to achieving your goal, and take actions,
learning and revising as you go.

Personally, I’ve learned a lot about addressing complex,
systemic issues by watching the work
of Mwalimu
’s organization in rural Uganda. URDT designs structures that
make it the path of least resistance for people to improve their
lives and their communities’ lives. The only “modern” technologies
that seem to be required to make lasting change in peoples’ lives and
communities in this third-world setting is radio. Community radio is
the locals’ preferred tool for building creative capacity by
engaging community members and stakeholders in identifying,
debating, and addressing complex issues. Identify issues. Create a
shared vision of the ideal outcome. Debate alternatives. Gather
different points of view. Commit to take actions. And then take
them, as you refine and adjust. Report back and keeping the process
transparent as you go. Share the learnings and reflect on what works
and what doesn’t.

The A, B, C’s of Structuring Our Ability to Improve our
Collective IQ

For internetworked organizations—for people who can easily and
affordably avail themselves of the Internet—there’s also a robust
body of proven practices that reminds us how to accelerate our
capacity for innovation as a group of people. Many of the basic
principles for “bootstrapping innovation” among people who are
working together online (and offline) to address complex issues were
invented and practiced by Doug Engelbart at Stanford Research
Institute when the Internet was in its infancy. At our recent
Visionaries’ meeting, Christina Engelbart, Doug’s daughter, reminded
us that her father’s life work revolved around helping groups of
people tackle really complex issues. Doug and his team at SRI functioned
as a “hot innovation team” for decades, inventing the tools they
used, using those tools to do their collective work, and practicing a
discipline of:

A: Focusing on the core capabilities required
to reach your outcomes

B: Continuously improving your core
capabilities by observing what works and what doesn’t, and
inventing new practices

C: Monitoring, reflecting on, and improving
your continuous improvement capabilities and sharing those
learnings and insights with everyone else who is observing and
improving B activities

This A, B, C model is just one of five key disciplines that
Christina has codified from Doug Engelbart’s work. I find the A,
B, C model to be a really useful way to approach any ongoing
activity, both as individuals but particularly in groups. I like
to think of them as different “hats” I’m wearing. I may be doing
an activity that is core or critical. While I’m doing that
activity, I’m wearing my “B” hat and noticing how I could be doing
it better, and maybe talking and working with others to do so.
Then, wearing our “C” hats, we collectively arrive at ideas and
conclusions about better ways still to improve our capacity to
help ourselves do both continuous improvement and to make creative

The more that our teams are firing on all three of these
cylinders, the greater our collective capacity to innovate and to
rise to the challenges that come our way. I really appreciated
Christina’s presentation at our Visionaries meeting. It reminded
me of the fascinating two days I spent interviewing Doug back in 1991 to really try
to understand what he had been doing all these years and why it
worked so well.

Christina refers to the five disciplines of Bootstrapping
Innovation as techniques that you should use together to boost
your “Collective IQ” as an organization or a team. “Some companies
are better at working collectively to solve complex problems than
others.” She used the example of BP’s fumbling to find a creative
solution to a tough problem as way to begin the discussion about
why it’s important for organizations to improve their Collective
IQ. “The lesson of collective IQ is not so much that organizations
with a high collective IQ are able to anticipate risk, but that
they’re able to rise to the task of doing things well,” over and
over again, including the ability to navigate externally and take
advantage of boosting that collective IQ with input from others.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Patricia Seybold
With 30 years of experience consulting to customer-centric executives in technology-aggressive businesses across many industries, Patricia Seybold is a visionary thought leader with the unique ability to spot the impact that technology enablement and customer behavior will have on business trends very early. Seybold provides customer-centric executives within Fortune 1 companies with strategic insights, technology guidance, and best practices.


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