THE BLOG

The Paradox of Innovation

09/26/2012 03:28 pm ET | Updated Nov 26, 2012

My big insight about innovation these days would make Nobel Prize winner, Niels Bohr, proud.

"Now that we have met with paradox," explained Dr. Bohr, "we have some hope of making progress."

Innovation is full of it -- paradox, that is.

On one hand, organizations want structures, maps, models, guidelines, and systems. On the other hand, that's all too often the stuff that squelches innovation, driving it underground or out the door.

The noble search for a so-called "innovation process" can easily become a seduction, addiction, or distraction whereby innovation is marginalized, deferred, over-engineered and worn like a badge.

True innovation is about allowing room enough for paradox to be a teacher and guide -- and to accept, at least for a little longer than usual, ambiguity, dissonance, and discomfort -- the age-old precursors to breakthrough.

Remember, there's a big difference between Six Sigma and Innovation.

Six Sigma is about reducing variability. Innovation is about increasing it -- and that often means allowing the kind of "messiness" that process-mavens interpret as a problem needing to be fixed, rather than a pre-condition to breakthrough and the resulting commercialization of that breakthrough that most people refer to as "innovation."

Yes, process, structures, systems are necessary, but they don't have to become overly pre-emptive. If you stay in an innovative mindset and can adapt to emerging needs, they will eventually become self-organizing when the soul of innovation is allowed to flourish.

Can we help the "innovation process" along with the right application of strategy, infrastructure, and planning?

Of course we can.

But beware! "Helping" the process too much often becomes counterproductive -- much in the same way that attempting to catch a milkweed floating through the air with a bold reach of your hand actually repels the object of your desire.

Innovation Physics 101.

Mitch Ditkoff is the Co-Founder and President of Idea Champions and noted keynote speaker on innovation and creative thinking. He is full of paradox himself -- and also not, neither, and both.