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by • 27 Jan, 2012 • InspirationComments (2)3015

Cultural innovation 101, or the basics of turning our world upside down

Cheltenham Sci Fest "Cracking Cold Light" Promo shot
Photo by Declan Fleming on Flickr.

After an inspirational session with the innovators network heritage (INE) yesterday, in which we discussed past successes and future plans for cultural world domination, I thought it would be nice to forget the debates about open linked data and digital sustainability for a while, and look back at the core of our job: innovation.

Below is a list of some of the core points that are good to be reminded of every now and then related to innovation. What is it, where does it come from and what can it bring us? Some of the points are apparently obvious, others less so and might be project or organisation specific. I’d love to hear your take on innovation in the comments.

  1. Innovation is the process from idea to delivery. As a friend once told me, ideas are as abundant as successfully finished projects are rare.
  2. Innovation starts with observation. As Geoff Mulgan writes, “Innovators generally have a wide peripheral vision, and they are good at spotting how apparently unrelated methods and ideas can be used togethers.” This means a good innovator is usually a generalist, has an eye for detail and great curiosity about how things work.
  3. Innovation is often obvious. Don’t discard ideas because they seem too simple, they might never have been tried before. Or as the late Peter Drucker said, “The greatest praise an innovation can receive is for people to day, ‘This is obvious! Why didn’t I think of it? It’s so simple!’”
  4. Innovation can happen anywhere in your organisation. Probably, your biggest win isn’t to be found in the social media department, but it doesn’t hurt to let them look (together with communications, collections, programming, sales, etc.).
  5. A business model is part of every innovation. If an innovation isn’t meant to add some real value to the visitor’s experience, collection management, the budget or something else, it’s just a crazy idea getting too much attention.
  6. It’s better to disrupt the market, than your audience. As every Facebook lay-out update shows, change always upsets people. Make sure you upset the right people, or as Clayton M. Christensen writes, “[Innovators] should try to disrupt their competitors, never their customers.”
  7. Innovation can be high-risk or low-risk, but there’s always a risk. Risk-free innovation is like money-free poker: if you can’t lose you can’t win. No pain, no gain.
  8. Returns are relative to the risk taken. High-risk innovation (expensive R&D departments, all-out bets) tends to yield higher potential returns than low-risk innovation (allowing staff to use 4 hours per week to try to do stuff differently).
  9. Management and innovation are mutually exclusive. The problem with government innovation schemes, at least in the Netherlands? They usually ask for a planning and tangible outcomes. However, although innovation has tangible outcomes, it can never be sure what they will be at the outset, or innovation would be called project management. Also, you don’t want a manager to be too innovative, and an innovator to spent too much energy managing stuff.
  10. Motivation is the key to innovation, for it focuses expertise and creative thinking. As Teresa M. Amabile writes, “People will be most creative when they feel motivated primarily by the interest, satisfaction and challenge of the work itself-and not by external pressures.”
  11. Innovation thrives on differences between people. There’s a compelling TED talk by Geoffrey West on how in bigger cities, there’s a lot more of everything. One of these things is innovation: more different people means more chance encounters, random interactions, inspiration, innovation.

Of course, this is just the 101. All quotes are from the The Innovator’s Cookbook, a series of essays and interviews curated by “good ideas guru” Steven Johnson. It’s a book worth reading, as it goes into things as ‘crazy’ as the set up of a building and its influence on innovation. All this, certainly, will be dealt with in future classes, either here or elsewhere on the Internet. For now, I’m ready to take questions…;-)

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  • James M Schaffer

    Norwalk CT is about to shutter its historical museum because of budget cuts. I am a fundraiser for mostly social service agencies and sense that this museum can be saved, if they simply invite the public to participate (it receives perhaps 1,000 visitors a year) by adding their family photos to the city’s storyline. Online photosharing apps are ubiquitous. Has anyone done this? Jim Schaffer 203-912-2802/mobile. On linkedIn here: http://www.linkedin.com/in/jamesmschaffer

  • Hi James, I think a participatory project will not easily save a museum that has lost its budget. Certainly, in the long run a more participatory and more engaging institution has a bigger chance to find a audience-supported business model. Participatory projects, however, are not like band aids. They require an institutional change, investments in time and often money and a well-thought-through strategy.

    That said, I believe participation is an essential step in the development of sustainable (and in the end profitable) relationships between institutions and audience. A well-executed photo sharing project therefore could be just what Norwalk CT needs.