You are NOT an innovator

I remember having a twitter conversation with a couple of members of my network a while ago about innovation. I can’t remember the exact exchange but I remember feeling quite dejected and disappointed by the replies. A comment on Assumed Constraints & L&D Thinking by David Goddin aka @changecontinuum  brought the memory back to me but thankfully this time there were no feelings of disappointment.

Explaining the context of the conversation will probably help here and I won’t mention names but I tweeted that I was enjoying doing different things at work and used the word innovating. A couple of replies came back that developed in to a conversation that concluded that what I was doing wasn’t innovative or innovating it was merely using the ideas and methods of others and regurgitating them in my own organisation.

Being that these comments were from L&D practitioners on Twitter, it kind of burst my bubble and for about 10 minutes dampened by spirits and enthusiasm. Oh well, I wasn’t innovating but I was putting new ideas in to practice and changing the way things were being done……hang on, what’s the definition of innovation again?

Wikipedia explains innovation to be;

Innovation is the creation of better or more effective products, processes, services, technologies, or ideas that are accepted by markets, governments, and society. Innovation differs from invention in that innovation refers to the use of a new idea or method, whereas invention refers more directly to the creation of the idea or method itself.

On a side note, I have to say I’ve always fancied being an inventor, ever since the age of 7 when I first watched Dr Emmett Brown invent time travel in Back to the Future.

Sadly the desire did not transfer in to ability so the dreams of being a crack pot inventor disappeared faster than the Delorean when it hit 88 miles per hour.

Anyway back to the case in point and David mentions the Diffusion of Innovation (shown below) in his comment

David goes on to say

I think what we’re seeing at the moment is the movement of innovators and early adopters. The two big “unknowns” for me are what is the tipping point (after which there is relatively rapid adoption) and which technologies (& beliefs?) will fail.

Personally, I think the tipping point is going to be very difficult to measure, because of my interest in community based learning I’m going to suggest that the huge rise in social enterprise platforms or social bolt-ons is evidence that online collaborative tools have reached an early majority. But early majority of whom, learning providers, learning technology companies or of normal employees adopting their use?

My own experiences of networks have shown me that adoption takes time and trying to change the way in which people work and share information is a challenge regardless of the tools available. To bring this to life, I had a conversation with a colleague today around setting up an online community and we laughed at how 3 years ago I was really pushing this platform for use across our own L&D team. Well it’s taken 3 years to get to the late majority phase within my own team of learning professionals; we are only now working with early adopters to develop communities across other areas of our business.  The technology is only the enabler and what we are in fact talking about is changing the mind-set and the culture of an organisation and its’ people in order to transform the way they learn, communicate and ultimately work.

If it wasn’t me it might have been someone else but the point is something new was introduced in to our organisation, a new idea. A need was established, the idea was developed and we tried something different – the innovation was to see an idea and apply it in an organisational context and do something that had never been done before.

If you are in L&D and you are bringing new ideas, tools and methods in to your organisation that haven’t been tried before then in my mind you are an innovator, look at the Diffusion of Innovation curve and find and work with your early adopters and get to that magic tipping point.

If L&D ARE the agents of change then surely we MUST be innovators and recognise this as the first step to main stream adoption. In fact don’t let anyone ever tell you that you are NOT an innovator…be bold, be brave

….and go forth and innovate.

Do you agree, are L&D innovators or just regurgitating other peoples’ inventions ?

Can you share any examples of where you have been an innovator (or even a laggard)?

What’s your next innovation and what’s the plan to reach the tipping point?


16 thoughts on “You are NOT an innovator

  1. In answer to your first question I believe that most L&D folk (I’m including myself in that) are only regurgitating other peoples ideas, but then I don’t think that comes as a surprise as I’m one of the ‘bubble bursters’!

    • Hi Craig thanks for stopping by and sharing what is a great article. Thankfully the 10 minutes was short lived and caused no lasting damage and it’s great to get different perspectives. I really like the way Harvey links vision with innovation and as he puts it “The key is to establish a vision and be ready to adapt. It’s a starting point that will undoubtedly change as the landscape shifts”. Now I see L&D establishing a vision on how 21st century tools and technologies can be adopted and applied to shift the landscape of work and learning. In order to bring about this change L&D practitioners need vision, an ability to see how the tools can add value and be applied to replace existing traditional approaches so whatever we call ourselves innovators, agent of change, regurgitators or even visionaries….. the point is who else is going to drive this change back in our organisations and get on and do it and see it through?

      • Hi Mike,

        My view on the question that you ask at the end of your response is this…

        …. the workforce themselves.

        I have seen, heard of and witnessed first hand so many failed attempts by L&D to implement well meaning, logical and ‘the right’ solutions; only to fall by the wayside due to lack of buy in/support/take up. (so I guess you could justifiably argue that it wasn’t ‘the right’ solution)

        I’m starting to think more and more that we should be led by the learners themselves. “Yes”, this may not happen within the timescales that we would like. “Yes”, we may have missed opportunities along the way…. BUT if we latch onto what the employees are doing, watching, participating in, listening to, interacting, engaging then surely we stand an incredibly higher chance of success than if we attempt to lead the way.

        To sum it up, I think L&D need to take another leaf out of the PR/marketing book and look at where their ‘audiences eyes are’ and then utilise that space, which is why I have answered your question with…

        …. the workforce themselves.

        Good effort on your blog by the way. A word of advice; think very carefully at this stage about how you see your blog growing as a site has limited functionaity compared to a self hosted WP site. You can always import old posts across should you ever go self-hosted, but it’s a bit of a pain and not without it’s glitches!

  2. As a fellow “bubble burster” I feel obliged to chip in. I don’t think it matters what you call it or how you define it, I’m over all that atom splitting semantic crap now. JFDI

    • It’s like a bubble burster convention in here now 😉

      Agree about the name, let’s just get on and do it. Just like the e/m learning debate. Thanks for stopping by Sam and looking forward to your forthcoming series of blog posts 🙂

  3. Wise words and I know what you are saying Craig and do agree with you, we can’t force anything on anybody this takes time and needs to grow organically as cultures are emergent over time. In a lot of organisations (or at least mine) it’s the ‘you don’t know what you don’t know” syndrome and ppl/ orgs can continue blissfully unaware that there is a different way of working. Without role modeling, supporting, providing guidance, developing capability, confidence and awareness of these tools the ‘workforce’ won’t know what they are capable of or what’s possible. I’ve seen first hand how practices can been changed because there is a better more effective way and this has been introduced and shaped by L&D – I believe we are the best placed people to do this.

    Thanks for the advice, it was a very quick decision after I couldn’t post the Unconference notes on Learning cafe blog. Not given any thought to blog development but might drop you a mail if that’s OK?

  4. Sam Walton of Walmart was never ashamed to admit he “borrowed” the best ideas of other companies and used them in his own business. He would literally walk into competitors’ stores and see what they were doing. If he thought he should do it to, maybe even slightly better, he would try it.

    Did that make what he did any less innovative? I don’t think so.

    Borrow/innovation/stealing/trailing – I don’t think it matters what you call it, as long as you don’t stay standing still your whole career.

  5. The point about innovation in L&D being “real” or not is interesting. Measured against the blog-link @Craig provided perhaps L&D has never created anything innovative? In the eyes of the world and as compared to Apple, L&D is not innovative.

    But L&D is not Apple. It’s not a product or brand to be consumed. It isn’t even a market.

    Learning & development is what we do as humans, naturally. Organisations & society either facilitates or hinders learning & development. It’s open ended, intangible and ever evolving.

    So the definition of innovation for the tangible (Apple) is not perhaps the definition that applies to the intangible (L&D). Just a thought…

    Back to the Diffusion of Innovation… forget the innovation context. This has application in the change context and that is why I think it’s a useful model to bear in mind. Principally & simply that different people adopt at different rates and with different influences, but there is a tipping point where you can build groundswell.

    Perhaps beyond that though, it’s really important to observe the relationship between “need”, “new ways” and the time taken to reach the late majority… In a world where tools, methods, practices seem to be evolving quickly, if it takes you 2 years to reach the late majority is what you’re doing “out of date” before you’ve reached 50% of your consumers. Have the Innovators & early adopters moved on and swept away the foundation that the early majority was built on? I don’t know. But I think it’s one to watch especially as we look at using technology for L&D.

    • Thanks again David for offering some great insights in to the conversation. L&D are certainly not Apple, Apple are indeed innovators – hang on didn’t they get the idea for the ipad from somewhere else then continue to claim that every other tablet provider copied from them?? Apple might ‘innovate’ or seem to innovate but what they then try and do is stop everyone else from innovating through patents, law suits, underhand marketing tactics – and ok I appreciate they aren’t the only ones. One of the things I love about L&D is our ability to continually evolve and develop and then we share…..we share ideas, models, concepts, we share free tools, we share successes and failures that we can learn from that push our profession on and on…L&D (or the people in L&D) is open source – here’s an idea (code) then go and develop it and see what you can design / create and improve – now that’s what I want to be part of 🙂

  6. There’s a difference between being “innovative” and being “original”.

    If you are introducing new ideas into a particular context (eg your workplace), then yes, you are being innovative – even if the ideas aren’t original.

    For example, I’m implementing informal learning initatives at my workplace, and I certainly am not the originator of the principles that underpin them. However, I see myself at the forefront of this movement that is revolutionising how we learn and develop in the corporate sector.

    Having said that, I like to think of myself as contributing something original into the mix. For example, an “Informal Learning Environment” ( manifests my idea for *how* informal learning can be implemented in the workplace.

    I think most L&D practitioners are both innovative and original in their own way, probably without realising it.

    As for the bubble bursters, I’d bet my bottom dollar they’ve never had an innovative or original thought in their life.

    • Thanks for the stopping by Ryan and sharing your post, for me this is exactly the sort of shift in workplace learning / practice and attitude towards workplace learning I’m referring to and I personally see you at the forefront of this change. I note as well that the post is from 2010 so links in with David’s comment above as lots can happen in 2 years so if you have a recent post on the sort of progress you’ve made I’d love to share it here too. The article is a must read for any L&D professional. Interesting comments from Mark as he also brings in the potential of micro-blogging and status updates in terms of the flow and movement of information in an org. The tools are there it’s how they are implemented and brought to life to add value that takes courage, vision and persistence.

      • Yes, I have indeed progressed my thinking since that post. In particular, m-learning has significantly raised its profile. My overarching take on this is that it’s more appropriate for “pull” learning rather than “push” training – following on from Allison Rosset’s position on job aids, but applying it to the mobile world. Oops, not original? ;0P
        I also agree with Mark’s comments on my post. A micro-blog such as Yammer is an excellent stand-in of the “discussion forum” component of the ILE. I’m not sure whether it’s less daunting or less time consuming than a typical online discussion forum – or perhaps appealing to Twitter users? – but time and again it grows exponentially inside corporations. I can vouch for that at my own workplace, and Simon Townsend wrote a great piece about how Deloitte uses Yammer for global knowldge sharing:
        You nailed it when you said using tools like these takes courage, vision and persistence. These concepts can take a lot of time and determination and frustration and self-belief to implement, and even then they can seem to move at a glacial pace, that is until you strike “overlight success” – LOL!

  7. Mike, great post and lots of stimulating conversation! I agree with Ryan in that you don’t have to be original to be innovative. Someone else’s idea, modified and used in a new context can still be innovative. In our situation, innovation comes from trying to push our tech/infrastructure to a different place, using the tools at our disposal. We do struggle sometimes to see what we do as innovative (when some of our systems are being ‘updated’ to XP) but I think we have come a long way in the last few years in getting the business to accept that we can do things differently. The only indication if these ideas have taken off is if the business are actually using our ideas and finding them useful. Hopefully this is something that will be evident in the next couple of years, but the change will need to come from the L&D department first. We’re getting there but a lot of our trainers aren’t yet in a place where they can be ‘evangelists’ out in the business.

    • Thanks for your comment Damian, so what needs to change if L&D professionals aren’t there yet. How can we accelerate this change so that in two years and I agree it can take that long if not longer do we all become evangelists and have influenced the business so that they are doing things fundamentally differently. How do we stop having the same conversations and move from talk to action?

  8. Pingback: Say what you see | The Learning Asylum

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s