Rome was founded in the middle of a savage world. Legend has it that twin brothers Remus and Romulas founded the city after being raised by a wolf in the wild. Rome was, at this time, under the control of the Etruscans who where fantastic artisans. They were also fierce warriors with advanced weapons. Rome, as a foundling savage city, had very few women. Romulas invited the neighboring Sabines to come to a festival and bring their wives and daughters. After a night of revelry, the Romans turned on the Sabines, captured the woman, and killed or ran off the men. How’s that for solving a problem? This solution involved leveraging super-system resources and would have been considered an open approach.
The Romans wanted to throw off the Etruscan mantle and did so by copying the Etruscan weapons and combat tactics. The Romans also copied many of the Carthaginian weapons and naval vessels. This ultimately helped them to defeat their Carthaginian enemies on land and at sea. Again, solutions to Rome’s problems were developed by utilizing resources from the super-system.
The formation of the Republic and the Senate were developed using a different approach. The Romans built on data collected from the first census and established categories of citizens that would participate in the governance of Rome. The Republic was formed and this was an internal innovation (although assisted by the Etruscans, who had ordered the first census). SPQR was born. Rome continued to utilize both open and closed innovation during their dynastic reign. A historical overview of the Pax Romana indicates various amazing examples of each. I suggest a review would be helpful for those interested in history and the connections you will find there with the field of innovation.
Santayana wrote in Reason in Common Sense, “Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it”. I think we can learn much about innovation by studying history thereby accelerating our own understanding of open and closed innovation and their respective roles in the modern organization.
November 1, 2008
Uroboros is the Latin word for “tail devourer”. The image is that of a mighty dragon swallowing its’ own tail. It is typically used to represent cyclicality or the concept of infinity. I present this image to you to demonstrate a concept of innovation that I think is important. That is the principal that innovation happens cyclically and perennially. This is true from both the perspective of preservation and evolution. This concept is realized by understanding that each innovation sparks the creation of a family of derivative products and services. Certain innovations may even generate entire industries and sometime even a revolution. Innovation in the current product/service portfolio helps to extend the period of profitability for each portfolio item. This generates stability and economic resources for the company. These resources fuel the continued preservation of the economic and service missions of the company. This places the company in a position where it can also afford to target new markets and other expansion opportunities that will allow the company to evolve. Innovation begets innovation. Preservation drives Evolution. Both are required for the long-term survival of a company. The needs of the customer are met and profitability from that exercise is maximized. The needs of society may be met as well as innovation drives development if products/services intended to meet the evolving needs of society. These become the next group of customers.
Enthalpy: Endothermic and Exothermic
Let me use concepts from chemistry and physics to elaborate on the concepts of open and closed innovation models. Enthalpy is the thermodynamic potential of a system. Some systems absorb energy during reaction and those are endothermic. Others produce energy during reaction and they are exothermic. The endothermic reaction is descriptive of a system where Gibbs Free Energy is greater than zero. In our innovation model, the endothermic system is equivalent to the Closed Innovation Model. In the Closed Innovation Model the company is aligning its’ innovation resources to search internally to find an innovative solution to a problem. At this point the challenge becomes one of adaptation. This method is very effective for preservation work. Using the existing body of knowledge and expanding the points of application is energy conservative.
This is the main method of problem solving in the innovation cycle.
The exothermic reaction is descriptive of a system where Gibbs Free Energy is less than zero. In our innovation model, the exothermic system is equivalent to the Open Innovation Model. In the Open Innovation Model the company is utilizing its’ resources to leverage the best idea possible disregarding the origin of that idea. This model requires a divergent foray into a much larger potential solution space. Finding a solution here may create a significant burst of smaller innovations that are also very important. This type of innovation also creates many opportunities for preservation innovation using the closed model. In this situation, the closed and open models are being used to drive growth and leverage existing intellectual property. Using these two systems cyclically is similar to a closed thermodynamics system. This maximizes efficiency and minimizes waste. It also drives the preservation and evolution of the business. This creates an ambidextrous response to the innovation problem and prepares a company for long-term survivability.
Innovation causes a rebirth in the organization across many levels. New product/service innovations create new needs for DfLSS and DMAIC. These opportunities create new scenarios for structured innovation to be applied at the tactical level. And the cycle continues. Also, new portfolio items can create the need for revisions to the strategic plan. This develops a ripple of energy throughout the system and can energize the company to an excited state where mediocrity can be avoided and change can be sought after in a focused and organized manner. A system in equilibrium is leveraging innovation to optimize the existing and create the new. This presents the opportunity to leverage Six Sigma to the fullest extent. It also insures a place for those mavericks in the company who need the entrepreneurial environment to truly thrive and be of maximum benefit to the organization. The renewal experienced with the Innovation Uroboros is a key driving factor in the dynamic prosperity of a company. Especially in today’s environment where customer needs are evolving faster than ever, societal needs are more difficult to target, and competitive response is quicker than ever.
The fact that innovation must be practiced continuously again puts it on par with quality. As improvement (quality) must be continuous so must innovation. The systematization of innovation will reduce its’ practice to a set of algorithms that can be learned and practiced repeatably. This will promote the ability of an organization to practice innovation cyclically and perennially- thus achieving the ambidextrous balance of preservation and evolution innovation.