Build your open innovation 2.0 culture The rise of humor-driven innovation

De PDMA.NL geeft haar leden de mogelijkheid om hun publicaties te delen op onze website. Deze keer is het podium voor Jaspar Roos van Future Ideas en Chief Humor Officer. Hij legt een mooie relatie tussen humor en innovatie!

Build your open innovation 2.0 culture - the rise of humor-driven innovation

Business guru Guy Kawasaki believes that people generally waiver between two dominant mindsets: microscopes and telescopes. Microscope thinking focuses on understanding and improving existing processes, whereas telescope thinking gazes outward at new possibilities. He champions the telescope approach for forward looking organizations. In this article, we would like to telescope into the future with humor-driven innovation as an addition to the open innovation spectrum.

Innovation: data or design
Innovation has always been important for organizations, but nowadays it is crucial for maintaining a
competitive advantage in many markets; innovation capability is even seen as one of the most
important determinants of the performance of an organization (Crossan & Apaydin, 2010). The idea of an organization as a stand-alone entity is now inconceivable. Businesses are increasingly operating in hive-minds of strategic alliances and partnerships to share risks, to access capital or to gain access to knowledge and skills. And they are operating within fast-responding supply networks to deliver customer value. This is what open innovation is about, connecting with the outside world.
There are many ways to see the world as well as innovation. Closed versus open. Incremental versus radical. There is also another angle, with what resources we take as the core. Data is one of them, design another. Typically, data is where Google stands for. Numerical analysis of what works best. Apple is the other side of the virtual spectrum. Intuition, designing and molding the wishes of the customer. This results in two main streams in innovation: being data-driven or design-driven.

Data-driven innovation
How do organizations come up with new ideas? Most of the time fresh ideas occur from happy accidents or by using techniques such as brainstorming. If you are part of the big data movement, you would say that brainstorming is unreliable. With data-driven innovation, innovators generate ideas by exploiting existing or new data sources and analytics to develop novel insights, particularly by answering queries. More data is generated today than ever. 90% of the data in the world today was created in the last two years alone. Several researchers call data 'the innovation story of our time' as analyzing large sets of information and cutting-edge experimentation will become a key driver of competition underpinning new waves of productivity growth and data-driven innovation. Probably the biggest difference between enterprises that are native to data and others is how they approach strategy. Non data-driven companies tend to undertake research in order to gain a deep understanding of the marketplace. Then strategy consultants spend months interpreting the data, decide what it means and suggest a course of action.
Data driven firms like Facebook, Amazon and Google, on the other hand, take the hacker way. They run experiments "thousands upon thousands of them. From colors used on a button to different websites to see which site will increase sales, all in real life and with real customers. Based upon quantified results, the experiments determine what the strategy will be.

Design-driven innovation
On the other side of the spectrum, you can find design-driven innovation. Where data-driven focuses on facts, design relies more on intuition and interpretation. Design has become a decisive advantage in countless industries, not to mention a crucial tool to ward off commoditization. We have seen this with many Silicon Valley based companies in which designers rule the scene. Apple of course being the dominant example, but also many web based startups like Pinterest or Youtube exemplify this direction. This connects well to the lean startup movement: fail early and often.

Design driven innovation is a process concerned with a product's meaning, not just its use and usability.

In the process, you start by empathizing with a specific user in order to uncover a core need and an unexpected insight that will drive innovation. user + need + insight define a point of view (POV), which will focus your process. You quickly ideate as many ideas as possible based on that POV, before focusing on a few ideas that you can make practical. You then prototype and test multiple ideas quickly with your users, meanwhile building a high class solution that incorporates your findings from each prototype. At every stage, you loop back to make sure that what you are doing is consistent with your POV, and often change both your POV and your solution. Or pivot, in lean startup terms.

So nothing wrong with that or maybe it is?
Data-driven and design-driven are both great in many innovation strategies. When designers lack influence, superb products become almost impossible. If an organization wants to be responsive and innovative, organizational culture needs to provide support for that. So you would also need a connecting culture. Several issues arise with these ways of working:
- Limited purpose for radical innovation. Combining user centered thinking and design-driven processes does not always work in radical changing environments, because the user does not know where to go to. Experiments show what people use, but, before getting there you might want first to create the dream on which you can build your experiments. Here the famous equation of 'Building faster horses' enters the scene.
- The issue with perfect worlds. There is no company who does not think adding design to a product or service. However, when is something too much? As you can see in many (home and house) design magazines, humans do not play a central part in the final scene and picture anymore. The solution is perfect. Or in smart phone terms, the product cannot be opened or altered after release. There is no further tinkering possible. This connects to the styling aspect of design, but becomes more dominant in innovation thinking. If not perfect, it is not good enough. This counter
- If our data is currency, who's the bank? It's a question that every innovator should be giving serious thought to. Those who don't may soon find themselves on the outside looking in at a data-centric economy that has moved on without them. Our data is hot property and everyone wants a piece of it. For consumers, it begins to feel like around every corner there's yet another company, service, or app that takes our data for their use. Consumers start to question the real, tangible value it brings to them, other than being perceived as entangled in the big data game.
- Thanks to the crisis and existing management techniques, many organizations suffer from being overly organized and dead serious. This can be a real problem. Take for example a drugs company. You see more and more that scientists in an organization unable to communicate effectively with scientists from different disciplines. The result is a lack of 'mental' energy in organizations. Energy is vital for any innovation approach to succeed. Both described innovation strategies, take energy for granted. However, mostly it is not there.

We would argue that decision making and advocacy require a larger palette of insight than design or data alone. So how to overcome these challenges? One of the elements will be the ability to talk and work with people in different professions. We would like to introduce an adjacent territory to 'fix' the flaws of choosing a data-driven or design-driven innovation process. This would involve adding the human element and thereby humor, mainly to create a culture to open to all kinds of techniques.

Introducing humor
Much research has been done in how innovation can be stimulated in organizations. Crossan and Apaydin (2010) name three levels of determinants of innovation: leadership, managerial levers and business processes. Others name the organizational structure and systems (Andriopoulos, 2001), knowledge diversity in a group (West, 2002) or motivation (Amabile, 1996) as important to foster innovation. We are however interested in another way of stimulating innovation in organizations; namely creating an organizational culture that promotes innovation in the organization by focusing on humor. Humor is a group of traits that include tolerance for novelty, ambiguity and change. Humor is a natural stimulus for creativity and innovation. Humor also implies play and fun. Humor does not necessarily mean being a comedian on stage. Humor is seen as a common element of human interaction. There are several theories of humor:
- Relief theory focuses on how humor is used to relief stress or to remove tension. An example can be someone making a joke to 'break the ice'. Another example would be CliniClowns, that offers distraction and joy to sick or disabled children in hospitals.
- Incongruity theory states that people laugh when something surprising happens: when the status quo is challenged and patterns are broken. Likely, this happens in a joke or many of the virals on Youtube.
- Superiority theory explains how people use humor to feel superior over others. It can also be used as a social corrective: people laugh at stupid actions of others.

Humor from employees stimulates readiness for change, thus the organization should foster internal approval of positive humor and the expression of laughter and external activities that naturally provide a social context that induces humor. Humor creates an energy burst. For an organization to be innovative, there has to be a culture that supports innovation and innovativeness. As you can imagine, designers and data scientists are people before being designers or data scientists.

Culture defines us
We are all influenced by the social and economic context where we live in. While culture is a slippery concept, it is something so ubiquitous that we take values and attitudes implicitly for granted. With more and more people being a global citizen and worker, we are more and more likely to be working with people influenced by attitudes and values different to our own. The most harrowing one is happening in the workforce. Whether your colleagues are virtual, born in a different country then you, you see a big divide in the aging and therefore also the phase someone grew up in. In short, we all come from somewhere and lived in a context. If you started studying in the nineties, internet started to emerge. Explaining to Generation Y that there was something like Gopher, the game Snake on your Nokia phone or the newness of ecommerce in the previous millennium, you immediately realize there is a generational legacy gap. This creates enormous challenges for organizations to thrive. Let alone innovation.

The rise of humor-driven innovation
Organizational culture is a set of shared mental assumptions and values that guide interpretation and action in organizations by defining appropriate behavior for various situations. It is seen as an important resource of competitive advantage by multiple scholars. Since culture is a resource that is difficult to imitate, it has the potential to provide an organization with a long-term advantage over their competitors. People are still the most important asset in most industries. In an era of collaboration beyond any differences geographies, class, etc. People get together with a sense of purpose rather than with a sense of function. This paradigm shift needs organizations to redesign themselves to best leverage its people factor.

So we see the emergence of an innovation process that focuses on a very human element. Humor-driven innovation is about creating an organizational culture that embraces innovation with a smile. It is about accelerating openness to new ideas, stimulating risk-taking, a focus on achieving results and support from management. Based upon earlier research,

The main attributes for humor-driven innovation are as follows:-
Humor is personal and culturally dependent. Products are easily scalable thanks to the culturally neutral data-driven and design approach. Scalability used to be a plus, a scarcity only possible for the big companies. In online worlds, scalability is a non issue. This creates copycatting behavior and continuous attacks on the business profit. If you want to stand out in the crowd you need to connect to local cultures. This involves additional thinking.
- Provocations. Provocations are deliberately unreasonable ideas that would be immediately vetoed by those who are not in the process. In our research, we have seen adding humor makes people think more in provocations and become unreasonable in a positive way;
- Alternative approach. Like with provocations, the techniques used within humor-driven innovation build upon the existing frameworks of open innovation, but adds alternative approaches like copycatting, exploring organizational taboos to accelerate innovation;
- Realization that there is no perfect end state. It is about continuous progress; With humor, especially the group processes are important for the creation of an innovation culture. From our earlier research, we find that the process brings light and airiness in any organizational culture.

Quadruple helix
This connects as well to the concept of quadruple helix as a successor to the triple helix thinking in the public domain from Henry Etzkowitz and Loet Leydesdorff .

Good collaboration between the research community and industry needs to be reinforced with stronger innovative public procurement component. Those components should take the citizens actively into the innovation process, to create the new markets for products and services. 'If citizens are not involved we enter up to the old linear paradigm and loose the win-win aspect of creating new markets', as said by EU advisor for Innovation Systems at the European Commission DG CONNECT Bror Salmelin. But how to connect to citizens? Humor might be a very effective tool for that. In advertising worlds, mixing an official message with humor is an obvious approach to create impact with the target audience. Adding some fun to the helix might be a good one, and at least promises to be a cool new adventure for ;-)

Colin Powel once said: Surround yourself with people who take their work seriously, but not themselves, those who work hard and play hard.

We innovators are very fond of describing and explaining how the world. The more models the better. Also the quantification of innovation is important. However, we all know this does not buy innovation. Innovation is not a concept you can streamline as such. A central point that we tried to outline in this article is that when organizations are going through huge changes, changes that require new thinking and new roles, you may want to incorporate natural stimuli. Humor is one of the most common elements to create new thinking. It is time for humor-driven innovation.

About the authors

Jaspar Roos is founder of Chief Humor Officer, a research group exploring the usage of humor in an organizational way. Chief Humor Officer has executed several academic studies. This article is based upon the thinking of and experiments executed by Merel Hoftijzer, Ragna van Damme, Anouk van Brecht and Jaspar Roos. For more information, please email us as het getoonde emailadres

Crossan, M. M., & Apaydin, M. (2010). A multi-dimensional framework of organizational
innovation: a systematic review of the literature. Journal of Management Studies, 47(6),
Andriopoulos, C. (2001). Determinants of organisational creativity: a literature review. Management
Decision, 39(10),
West, M. A. (2002). Sparkling fountains or stagnant ponds: an integrative model of creativity and
innovation implementation in work groups. Applied Psychology: An International Review,
51(3), Amabile, T. M. (1996). Creativity and innovation in organizations (Harvard Business School).

Jaar van publicatie: 2014
Auteur: Jaspar Roos

26-01-15 (JH)
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