The Invisible Element: A Practical Guide for the Human Dynamics of Innovation By Robert B. Rosenfeld, Gary J. Wilhelmi and Andrew Harrison. !nnovatus Press, 2011. 250 + xxi pages and appendices.
I have always been interested in how people interact in teams—sometimes with outstanding results launching a fabulous new product, and other times devolving into chaos with delayed and destructive development efforts. “The Invisible Element” focuses on behaviors of people as individuals and in groups, providing a set of tools and tips to help organizations succeed on the people side of innovation.
“The Invisible Element” is portioned into two sections: Part One addresses eight human principles, and Part Two expands those ideas to the organization as a whole. A total of 10 chapters in Part One document the importance of the individual’s mindset and behaviors to drive creativity and revolutionary innovation.
With corporate scandals and political roadblocks commonplace in legislatures around the globe, chapter 2, Trust is Foundational, should be required reading for every business leader. “Trust takes a long time to build and a short time to break down” (p. 14). The authors go on to differentiate between “head trust,” or intellectual respect, and “heart trust,” or emotional commitment. With high levels of trust, individuals are free to take greater risk, to utilize their imaginations and to innovate toward common goals. When organizations lose trust, perhaps inadvertently through cost-cutting measures, the fear of failure holds back even the most creative individuals from taking innovation risks.
Chapter 4, Soft Values, builds upon the theme of individual and organizational trust by showing that creative individuals are primarily intrinsically motivated and not necessarily through external evaluations. Moving to “revolutionary innovation, the degree of intrinsic motivation must also increase” (p. 42).
Next, chapters 6 through 9 describe systems and tools for improving innovation success, including co-locating project teams. The authors assert, “co-location is critical during the creation, generation and brainstorming stages” (p. 75). Logically, as people get to know one another better (assisted by proximity), their trust with one another can grow, yielding a freedom to take more positive creative risks.
While Part One of “The Invisible Element” tends to focus on what drives individual behaviors, the authors also present a thorough discussion of organizational culture and team structure. Part Two (chapters 11 through 23) begins to assemble these pieces into a cogent picture and expands individual behaviors to innovation team standards and norms.
Chapter 13 picks up again on the underlying theme of trust, describing organizational trust and positing that the presence of organizational trust indicates the degree of successful innovation. Organizational trust is differentiated from individual trust (Part One) as being trust between peers, trust between employees and managers, and trust between employees and senior leaders.
Chapter 15, Organizational DNA, and Appendix III summarize the characteristics of each of 36 combinations among culture, organizational trust and risk tolerance. These detailed descriptions can help a firm identify any gaps between where they are currently and where they want to go with their innovation programs.
Organizational “rules,” which are often invisible or not written, can guide the innovation behaviors at a firm. These rules are described in chapters 16 through 18 and include communication, decision-making and knowledge transfer. The final chapters of Part Two in “The Invisible Element” wrap up with problem descriptions, team structure for problem-solving and reward/recognition systems for innovation leaders.
Complete with a nice glossary of innovation terms, “The Invisible Element” is an intriguing look at how human behaviors impact creative success. Team members, leaders and executives who really want to change their organizations and are willing to take a risk on their people should read this book cover to cover. Utilizing the many tools, templates and worksheets sprinkled throughout the text can help organizations focus on where they want to drive their innovation progress. “The Invisible Element” is recommended for all innovation leaders to can gain insight and understanding of people in innovation.