Social innovation and tech go hand-in-hand

Innovation is not just about doing new things, it is about doing new things and getting better results. In corporations, successful innovation leads to new revenue, lower costs and higher profits based on new and improved products based on changed operating models powered — more often than not — by a revised “IT landscape”. From the previous sentence, if you agree with it, you will find that innovation is both social, organizational and technological.

Part of an ongoing conversation

This blog post is part of an ongoing conversation between myself and Gene Hughson. If you want to read the previous parts, here they are:

  1. We deliver decisions by Gene Hughson.
  2. Serendipity with Greger Wikstrand and Woody Zuill.
  3. Gene was prompted to ask if IT is to big to succeed?
  4. I responded that successful innovation often starts small but needs to scale up to the size of corporations.
  5. Gene responded with a post about technical versus social innovation and the uneven pace of innovation as seen in eg World War I — horses and tanks on the same battlefields.

This is the sixth post in the conversation. Feel free to chime in with your own blog post or video. The video below summarizes this post.

The best innovations are often social

Some of the best innovations are social. Gene mentions mission-type tactics (aka Auftragstaktik) in his post. This style of management where responsibility and authority are delegated was pioneered by the Preussian army in the 19th century. It is my view that agile software development shares many charactheristics with mission-type tactics.

Queueing is another example of a relatively recent social innovation. Queueing is often seen as the pinnacle of civilized behaviour. Everyone waits their turn in an orderly line. Moving in an orderly line has been done in nature for millions of years, e.g. geese flying or sheep roaming the landscape. But queuing as a social innovation has only been around for something like two hundred years. Queuing does not specifically require any technological support; a queue only needs enough people supporting it to be successful. However, queuing is often enforced using technology such as barriers, queue numbers, waiting lists etc.

Voters queuing in western HeratSource: A United States Agency for International Development employee via Wikimedia Commons | PD

Queuing is a social innovation. The front of this queue is enforced by technology – a barrier – while the back of the queue is only enforced by social convention.

E-commerce is another example of an innovation that was first introduced as a social innovation. The first mail order catalogue was published in 1498 by Aldus Manutius of Venice. The concept has remained the same ever since, but it has only been able to grow in importance as it is has gained more and more technological support. However much e-commerce has grown since 1498 it is still expected to double in revenue over the next five years. This is the result of changing behaviours and habits in consumers as well as new innovation eg improved last mile logistics.

Technology powers innovation at scale

So if innovation often starts as social innovation but scales with the help of technological innovation and inventions, what does that mean for the separation between business and technology that is so often seen in corporations today? I believe that there is a false dichotomy between “business” on one hand and “technology” on the other hand. Technology is not a passive enabler of business or an alien element to be managed separately. There is “no IT, only business technology”:

Is the solution then to dismantle the IT department and move IT to partners and into the business? In my previous post, I argued that embedded IT is great to test new innovations locally but that corporations need to be able to scale successful innovation quickly in order to be able to reap the full benefits of them. Working in the right way (innovation process, social innovation and technological innovation), with the right partners will be the key to future success for corporations.

Image sources

About Greger Wikstrand

Greger Wikstrand, Ph.D. M.Sc. is a TOGAF 9 certified enterprise architect with an interest in e-heatlh, m-health and all things agile as well as processes, methods and tools. Greger Wikstrand works as a consultant at Capgemini where he alternates between enterprise agile coaching, problem solving and designing large scale e-health services ...


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