An excellent post over at frog’s design mind blog (“Adapt, Jugaad, Hacking, Shanzhai or the Merits of Seeing the World As It Is Not”) makes a number of crucial points, many relevant to SFIP. Among them are the idea that innovation fads come and go (remember Design Thinking?); the insight that “wrong is right,” since true innovators always “see the world as it is not”; and the corollary observation that innovation is a mindset, rather than a process that can be administered or learned, for which serendipity is key. Author Tim Leberecht focuses in on the Indian practice called Jugaad: 

“Jugaad is a remote sibling of the Western-style hacking, the manipulation of existing products and services, and with the Chinese Shanzhai phenomenon (innovation through fast imitation) it has in common the utter disrespect for any kind of brand or management ideology. Adaptation, improvisation, rapid experimentation, fast failing, a high tolerance for ambiguity, super-flexibility… together these principles are perhaps marking the beginning of a new era of doing business, a new economy.”

It’s enough to make you think that innovation is a case of emergent behavior in a complex system (which to some extent it is), beyond influence. But I would also argue that there is room for adding structure, context, and what I’ll call method (as opposed to a process) to accelerate and diffuse innovation. As one example, SFIP’s method, based on its overall problem-solving approach, features five main themes:

  1. Pick the right problem
  2. Engage the implementors
  3. Invite multiple perspectives
  4. Provide the best environment
  5. Experiment radically and recursively

In practice, these work roughly as follows:

Wrong Problem/Bad Solution: Altogether too often, organizations or stakeholders fail to identify the actual or underlying systemic problem at hand, and instead wind up addressing symptomatic or proximate issues. The SFIP method begins with a deep and robust re-examination of the nature of the problem, featuring a whole systems approach.

Stakeholders as Participants: The “client,” or the entity experiencing a given problem, becomes an active participant, working with SFIP and the collaborative team. This should include end-users in a user-centered design process. Implementation is part of the deliverable, and implementors are part of the team.

Diversity Trumps Ability: Scott Page, Ph.D. (External Faculty member at the Santa Fe Institute) has formally proven that in the type of problems SFIP will address, there is greater value to having a diverse set of problem solving perspectives and heuristics, than homogenous depth of expertise. This is also known as “two heads are better than one.”

Skunkworks Work: There is abundant evidence to support the idea that when truly new thinking is needed, a new environment, context, and organizational values are required. SFIP offers a conceptual “safe haven” for participants to abandon legacy assumptions and organizational cultures, and to truly “think different” about the problem at hand.

Obvious Connections/Unexpected Combinations: Given the nature of our problems in such areas as energy, climate, education, health, water resources, sustainable development, and biodiversity, it’s obvious that industry, policy, and science must be brought into closer collaboration; the role of art, design, and creative processes may be somewhat less obvious, but in the words of Albert Einstein, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” SFIP promotes unexpected interactions across all these sectors, thus favoring serendipity.

Fail Early and Often: SFIP uses rapid virtual and physical prototyping, and advanced simulation, visualization, and modeling (a Santa Fe-area specialty). This allows collaborators to experiment broadly, wildly, and frequently, permitting the generation of many more potentially interesting ideas, their full evaluation, and reiterative and recursive feedback loops for improvement.

I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see many of these concepts “emerging” out of Jugaad, and other spontaneous approaches. Let’s all do our part to make the world safe – and even supportive — for wrong-headed innovators, everywhere. We have nothing to lose but our silos.