Rapid Innovation – The time is right!

by Scott Ward

Most of us realize that as people we are hardwired to connect.

Be it between friends, family or tribes our natural instincts compel us to build communication networks across which we share our individual and collective experiences. These communication networks act as a collective safety net alerting us to danger or exchanging valuable knowledge or knowhow.

What fewer people realize is just how important these communication pathways are to the innovation process.

Innovation is built on the active exchange of information between people. Often innovation comes down to the active use of knowledge learnt in one domain, applied to the needs of another. Let me give you an example:

There was a shipping company in the Arctic whose job it was to rescue stranded tankers. As part of their rescue they would pump oil from the stranded tanker into a working ship to avoid damaging the environment. However the cold Arctic temperatures meant the oil would often freeze in the pipe and hamper the rescue.

After trying heaters and a variety of solutions the company struggled to solve the problem so they posted their issue online and offered a reward. They received a number of responses but the suggestion that won came from a former concreter.

The concreter said that when he used to set large slabs they would put an agitator in the concrete. The agitator would vibrate and keep the concrete moving which gave them more time to pour, as the slab was slower to set. The concreter suggested they do something similar but with a pole shaped agitator that sat in the pipe; they did and it worked!

So while the required innovation seemed obvious to the concreter it is a great example of how we use communication networks to draw knowledge from one domain and apply it to the needs of another.

When we realize that successful innovation is heavily dependant on our ability to build and tap into the knowledge that sits across a multitude of networks, suddenly the magnitude of the opportunity that sits within social media becomes apparent.

Today, thanks to technology, we sit on the cusp of something truly brilliant.

With nearly two billion people on-line we now have the platform to connect our collective brilliance. The opportunity to share, learn and progress has never been greater and the spoils of this connectivity will build momentum over the coming generations.

Yes, the world is changing faster than ever before, and yes, this implies a massive need for organisations to get involved; but for the creative inventor that sits in all of us, brimming with childlike curiosity, this is our time.

Putting people at the centre of the digital disruption conversation

by James Dellow

The phrase ‘digital disruption’ is quite a misnomer. Growing up in the information age we intuitively think we know what digital disruption means, but when we actually talk about it our conversations instead drift towards the symptoms of disruption – for example, the emergence of global digital brands like Apple, massively popular social platforms like Facebook and electronic tools such as the ubiquitous Android smartphones.

I call these symptoms of disruption because no technology truly disrupts unless it disrupts what we do and how we do it, not just what we do it with. For example, is Bitorrent (a protocol for peer-to-peer file sharing) anymore disruptive than the VCR or the tape recorder? If your business model is based on controlling access to the intellectual property, then its likely you would claim the outcome is much the same. But only Bitorrent could enable Wikileaks to distribute a digital “insurance policy”. This then begs the question: Is technology disrupting us or are we disrupting with technology?

Kai Riemer and Robert B. Johnston offer this definition for digital disruption:

“changes enabled by digital technologies that occur at a pace and magnitude that disrupt established ways of value creation, social interactions, doing business and more generally our thinking.”

Here I can see hints at the human dimension of digital disruption: it creates significant changes to how we relate to each other and how we think. Focusing on these profoundly human dimensions of what it means to live in a digital society reveal deeper insights into what is actually being disrupted.

From this perspective, digital disruption is less about digital technologies themselves and more about how we perceive the world and decide to integrate those technologies into our lives. The trend towards second screens, where people use a tablet or smartphone when watching television, is one example of an emergent technology behaviour. Research from the US shows that as early as 2010, 86% of mobile Internet users were using their mobile devices simultaneously with TV. The majority of them were connecting to people and content in a way that the one-to-many mode of television can not.

In fact the over-riding theme of digital disruption is the ‘network’. If the industrial revolution and the age of steam gave us the machine metaphor to describe how the world worked, then what does it mean when we interpret the world through a perspective that sees networks everywhere?

Similarly, James McQuivey writes in his book, Digital Disruption, that:

“Once digital disrupters adopt this mindset and begin to act accordingly, they just get better – better at seeing way around, under, over and through structural and market problems.”

In effect, digital disrupters see the network and work with it. Imagine the difference between a workplace where the people within the organisation think of themselves as a network versus those that are locked into a mechanistic world view; this mindset creates opportunities for disruption in terms of how people within the organisational structure relate to each other, their customers or clients and also the organisation itself. The ultimate disruption to the organisation of course is to reject it entirely and recreate the model, like joining a co-working space like Hub.

For digital disrupters and other people creating solutions that leverage digital disruption this creates a problem. How do you design for asymmetrically empowered users, emergent technology behaviours or organisations where traditional roles no longer exist?

This disruption of the design process calls for a more human-centred, less digital-symptom centric, design mindset:

  • Co-design – design digital technologies with people, not for them.
  • Situated design – understand the different time, place and purpose for using digital technologies.
  • Empathy – above all else, design with a deep understanding of the feelings and attitudes of people and their relationship to technology.

In other words, designing for digital disruption means placing people at the centre of the conversation.

Is your knowledge alive?

by Simon Terry

“What we learn from experience is stored, not in the form of answers, but in bits and pieces of the experience we have accumulated, sometimes over years. What we think of as tacit knowledge is really the human ability to draw on our past experiences to respond to new problems or questions.”      (Nancy Dixon)

Much of our working life is obsessed with preventing the death of knowledge. Many of the practices of our working life accelerate the loss of knowledge.

Is your knowledge alive?

Organisations are haunted by the idea “if only we knew what we know”. We invest huge amounts in capturing, cataloguing and storing knowledge but still knowledge dies at an alarming rate. This occurs because too often knowledge is divorced from very human experiences, treated as something independent of its authors and stored in a static form. In this way knowledge is often allowed to die by never seeing use again, despite the effort invested in its creation & storage. Knowledge that stops moving among people is dead.

Too often this dead “knowledge” is well and truly buried on a private hard drive or in hard to search paper files, quietly lost to everyone. Some of this dead knowledge is in the heads of employees whose tacit knowledge may never be known or called into action.

We can bring our knowledge to life by treating it as a flow. We can bring it to life by creating ways for people to engage with it again, use it in some new way and create a new memorable experience. Our efforts to put knowledge into flight again create the experiences that enable us to remember better, develop the knowledge, keep it current and continue to use it. The best of these experiences enable many people to openly engage with knowledge, creating a collaborative learning environment where knowledge is shared and grows for a group. In these experiences, knowledge in flight can interact to create new hybrids.

Creating new conversations around knowledge will generate narratives and stories to fly that knowledge into the future. Relevant knowledge in your stores will get swept up into these conversations bringing them back to life and meaning again. An enterprise social network is an ideal place to generate a new conversation, to share it with many others, putting knowledge back into flight.

In my talk at DISRUPT.SYDNEY, I will explore these concepts in the context of organisational silos and how we can create a more vibrant knowledge culture in our organisations.

The NBN as enabling infrastructure

by Kai Riemer


Key to understanding the value proposition of the NBN is to understand that it is an infrastructure technology. Infrastructures are not tools.

Tools solve a problem, infrastructures will enable new ways of working and living only once users and businesses start innovating on top of it. They are enablers (and multipliers) for disruption!

Read the full argument in my SMH Opinion piece, or watch as video here.

Join us for DISRUPT.SYDNEY on 5 Sep 2013

“Digital disruption is not only a possibility for your company’s future, but the only possibility.”      (James McQuivey, Forrester Research)

Are you involved in innovation? Are you affected by digital change? Do you want to leverage digital disruption?

Benefit and be prepared. Join the next wave of Innovation with DISRUPT.SYDNEY.

A full day event that brings together industry leaders and Sydney University researchers.

Capitalizing on Disruption (keynote) by Adam Pisoni (Yammer Co-Founder and GM of Engineering, Microsoft Office Division) pisoni-small
Short talks by leaders in digital change, from Cisco, NAB, Powerhouse Museum, The Hub, and more
Hands-on workshops on topics such as Recruiting, Innovation, Mobile Design, Enterprise Social Media, Social Network Analysis
Roundtable discussions on a range of digital change topics, including Sustainability, Employee Engagement, Big Data, Retail disruption, the National Broadband Network, and more!

DISRUPT.SYDNEY is brought to you by the Digital Disruption Research Group (DDRG) and the Balanced Enterprise Research Network (BERN) at the University of Sydney Business School.

Get involved and enjoy.

Kai Riemer & Kristine Dery (DDRG Co-leaders)