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research, theories, models and performance indicators
Innovation is a journey from finding out how things are changing, to figuring out what we can now...
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26 May 2010
Innovation is a journey from finding out how things are changing, to figuring out what we can now do about them. It is not decorating the same-old with brighter bells and more enticing whistles. Neither is it impulse, whim or hobby-horse.
Innovative ‘finding-and-figuring’ is evidence based. But what serves as evidence is not so obvious. It’s more than what comes out of experiment or survey. We can rarely sensibly move directly from evidence to action. We need to know what is significant in what we observe. And what counts is not just a fact, it’s a factor. Facts are the muddle, factors are the clues.
There is all kinds of slippage between finding a fact and recognising a factor. Think about any evidence which gives a clue to your work. You know...
from the beginning, any line of enquiry signposts some factors - not all
‘what works’ in one situation may not work in another
no research can pick up all the evidence
no team can focus all the significant factors
other research organises similar facts into different factors
in the end, there are still questions that have not yet been asked
We know that research is always circumscribed, usually ambiguous and often challengeable. It makes eclectics of us all. But we need better than pick-and-mix eclecticism. And we get more - not just from research, but also from theory, and - then - from model-building.
Research is careful observation - as in a survey, a direct observation or a trial. It needs a methodology to say that, although it cannot be the-whole-truth, it can be nothing-but-the-truth. It’s a start.
Theory searches for patterns, noticing similarities and differences in what goes on. Statistics can reveal correlates. And moving the facts around in your head can produce a pattern which demands attention. The search is for factors which might explain how things are. And, without linking effects to causes, there’s no basis for action. But let’s not rush into anything.
Models scan theories, and assemble them into a bases for action. They are models because they have, so to speak, ‘levers’ and ‘buttons’ which give us ‘movement’. They say ‘pay attention to these factors to get these results’. We can’t get that kind of formulation from one piece of research, nor even from one theory. It always means taking one thing with another. But it means more than that.
The ‘self’-‘opportunity’-‘decision’ model worked well. It’s factors were comprehensive yet distinct, balanced yet consistent, interdisciplinary yet coherent. This is not back-of-an-envelope stuff. And it worked well enough for a fair few people, for much of the time, on some of the issues. No mean achievement. It framed our professional expertise for some decades.
The theory was reworked psychology, economics and sociology. All three fields have moved on some way since the model was first assembled. And, now, we increasingly work with neurology, evolutionary psychology and cultural theory. Narrative theory links to it all. New facts, more theories, different factors - it all calls for new models.
Performance indicators need a model of how things work. Much of what we are given - in analyses, blueprints and frameworks - speak of factors which link ‘self and ‘opportunity’ to ‘decision’. They suggest targets to aim for, outcomes to assess and standards to evaluate. All assert what kinds of action are ‘a good idea’.
Innovation needs to start again. And in a constantly expanding range of knowledge it has a lot to go on. This is the challenge to contemporary professionalism: shall we, again, redecorate existing models, or shall we build new ones? Our understanding of how things work - and need to work - means we must looks elsewhere for ‘good ideas’. Innovation needs new models, built by a resurgent professionalism.
In my dreams?