When it comes to innovation, the myth of the lone genius dies hard. Most companies continue to assume that innovation comes from that individual genius, or, at best, small, sequestered teams that vanish from sight and then return with big ideas. But the truth is most innovations are created through networks — groups of people working in concert. ((Cross, Rob, Haragadon, Andrew, Parise, Salvatore and Thomas, Robert. September 14, 2007, “Together We Innovate.” Retrieved from http://sloanreview.mit.edu/smr/ on October 1, 2007.))
A few months ago I republished a picture that showed us what innovation looked like. By charting thousands of scientific papers and the papers they references, you could actually create an image that showed the collaborative effects of a scientific community’s impact on generating new scientific findings and innovations. The interesting thing about this was that new innovations had to draw upon old innovations, and the same goes for the business community. Very little happens in a vacuum, and it turns out those water cooler conversations are critical to our business’ health.
While it’s possible that a small number of individuals might generate the largest amount of innovations within an organization, those innovations are usually going to be the result of many conversations and minute refinements over a long period of time. The trick here is that sometimes the innovators don’t know each other.
The other problem is that there are some people in the organization that may not be high volume innovators, but are brokers of critical information. These people are the center of data and knowledge, are trusted by many in the organization for insight, but simply might not be the ones to come up with the next radical idea.
As part of HR’s talent management program, we should be helping our organization by identifying competencies that contribute to innovation. By doing so, we can ensure that these resources are most tied into critical parts of the organization and are in the path of information distribution channels. Identifying and then tying together innovators and knowledge brokers is one of those critical HR functions that has everything to do with talent management simply through the competency data that we have at our fingertips. Innovation is a critical staple of our businesses, and HR has the power to enhance it.