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Increase Innovation: leverage the 7 levels of human innovation capacity

The lightbulb.

Very few inventions hold the same cultural significance as Thomas Edison’s lightbulb. As we trace the ancestry of invention, navigating the systems that have yielded us everything from rockets to nanotechnology, it is Edison’s scientific approach to invention that laid the groundwork for product innovation.

And yet, we can do more. No longer are we stymied by the limits of physical products (‘things’) when it comes to innovation. As emerging technology moves from extensions of our physical selves to amplifiers of our creative, thinking, deciding and learning selves, with this comes ever increasing complexity and the need for a new paradigm of innovation: Human Innovation.

Human Innovation: Our 7 Levels of Human Innovation Capacity

Human Innovation increases the Innovation Capacity of emerging technology teams, allowing them to move from individual silos of ineffective product development to cross functional, supportive and game changing leaders of innovation ecosystems. Building upon Design Thinking, Systems Thinking and Universal Pragmatics, Human Innovation introduces a new framework for introducing and sustaining behavior change while amplifying the innovative capabilities of all team members.

Our Human Innovation Capacity

We are all born with natural gifts. Our talents are diverse and plentiful, allowing our individual aptitudes to accelerate the innovation process—but only if we know how to cultivate those genetic gifts. For some they may have a mind for 3-dimensional visualization, seeing frameworks, models and other way to help others learn and perceive with them; while others have a deep respect for fields of learning beyond their own and build bridges and facilitate deep listening, like the amazing Vannevar Bush, who headed the Office of Scientific Research and Development and helped the Allies win the war; and yet others who work at the interface between disciplines and act as translators enabling interdisciplinary innovation. No matter the talent, a human innovation leader amplifies those traits and builds upon them to increase the sophistication and elegance of the innovation.

Most of us develop skills that build upon those talents. Such skills we learn in school and early in our careers. These skills are basic functions of navigating our work and lives, such as data entry or proofreading and they are imperative for any human innovation process. Yet how these skills are executed and how well they are performed is reflective of our competencies.

Competencies can be nurtured with time, training and reflection. We are only able to grow beyond skill acquisition and execution when we are able to perform our jobs with high levels of care and attention, to the point we embody a higher level of quality and craft. Competencies doesn’t mean getting the job done. It means doing the job well, on time and exceeding expectations. Most innovation teams I meet are well endowed with skills and competencies, yet many struggle to move beyond what each individual member is good at and collaborate together to create something truly remarkable.

This is where innovation practices come into play. A practice is a series of behaviors and feedback loops that is generative. Such practices include deep listening, joyful design sessions, co-inventive feedback and designing relevant tracking metrics that drive to excellence and purpose. Edison was the first to apply practices to the innovation process, borrowing from science the methods and behaviors needed to develop a feedback loop of information and results.

We often hire amazing humans with their own innovation practices and try to leverage their innate talents, learned skills and mature competencies to increase the innovation capacity of our teams. Many times these individuals struggle to translate their own practices to the broader team and we end up relying on the leaders learned sense and implicit experience when in fact we need to build a shared language and understanding and explicit knowledge sharing team practices. Common practices can then become the fertile ground for the necessary conversations needed for innovation teams to maximize their capabilities.

Conversations is where the real fun starts. Here individuals come together and engage in a dialogue of co-invention, where one member is the customer who is making a request from the performer. Together they navigate to invent together what the conditions of satisfaction would look like for their work in the innovation process. Conscious Conversations are the engine of co-invention.

Design works best when the conversations between all stakeholders have been initiated and remain open for feedback, changes and new interpretations. With design we see the emergence of strategy and implementation, creating a robust execution of the new innovation and allowing the individual members of the team to perform at their very best. Design not only acknowledges individuals’ abilities, but amplifies their capacities so that each member of the team succeeds in their role. Imagine what it would be like to finally unlock the very best innovative capacity of each individual on your team! They wouldn’t be stuck in silos of stymied thinking and brewing in angst, but rather collaborating with one another for a truly innovative experience.

When teams are able to move from competencies to practices, and then from practices to conversations and designs, we witness a new agile co-inventive process that eliminates the waste, the blame and the cynicism so often experienced when ‘politics’ and human lack of co-inventive competence gets in the way of and slows down the innovation processes (more on that later).

When we embrace Human Innovation, we are able to co-invent solutions to problems that seem impossible to conquer. We are able to curtail the consequences of siloed product design, the burn out of unaligned teams, and avoid product launch failures. Instead, we are able to co-invent a future of possibilities. A future where innovation thrives and we can all innovate better together.

Jennifer Kenny speaks, mentors, trains and facilitates on Human Innovation, with a specific focus on two of the big levers of innovation: technology and gender diversity. Her work is founded on Systems Thinking and Language Action Design/Human Centered Design.

To learn more about her Human Innovation programs, visit her website or subscribe to her Human Innovation newsletter.

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