This is the second post in our series on Catalyzing Innovation. I’ll discuss the first three contributing factors here, and the remaining six in future posts.

Adjacency and Commingling

It is easy to over-simplify innovations. Yes, the iPod was about music, but its success has been as much about expanded battery life, miniaturized data storage, user interface design, and perhaps most of all easy digital distribution. Most innovations occur when several ideas, technologies, and areas of expertise come together in unique ways; successful innovation (and disruptive innovation in particular) rarely results from the deepening of a single domain of expertise.

Organizations seeking innovation must create space for people and ideas to interact, both in structured and unstructured environments. Adjacency – physical if possible, virtual if necessary – heightens the chances and ease of interaction, but it is not enough; commingling must be encouraged and intentionally structured so that previously unseen connections may be discovered, tested, and nurtured.

Strong Social Capital

Most great innovations emerge from vibrant communities of discourse. From the Renaissance to the internet age, we can see that ideas are accelerated by contact with a diverse, connected and engaged community.

Sustained innovation requires that organizations recognize the value of social capital, by which I mean the connections between and within social networks. Social networks facilitate collaboration, and collaboration empowers the nodes in the network to create and see things that could not have been achieved alone. Social capital drives cross-pollination of knowledge and discovery of new ideas, and makes it dramatically easier to turn those ideas into reality.

Collective Intent

The path from an idea’s first spark to execution and market value is often a long and challenging one. Personal gain can be a powerful motivator, but it rarely provides the necessary energy or incentives that breakthrough innovation requires. Sustained innovation comes from the alignment of people, culture, tasks, and formal organization under a unifying vision, mission and strategy, as noted in the book Winning Through Innovation.

Purpose-driven organizations with strong core values and clear collective missions capture the hearts and minds of their members, inspiring them to reach for new possibilities, and keeping morale high when challenges arise en route to common goals.


In my next post, I’ll be exploring Rock Star Advocacy, Anchored Exploration, and Selective Seeding. In the meantime, please share your reactions to these first three points.