Sunday, November 2, 2008

Innovation and Collaboration

Recently and reoccuringly I am asking myself and others what it means to be innovative in regards to design and design process. Parallel to that I'm wondering how collaboration feeds innovation and vice versa?

I read Peter Drucker's seminal book, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Practices and Principles, (1985, Harper & Row, NY) which motivates my thinking and design process. Entreprenuers can not function without innovation. The best collaborations do not function without innovation. Often the most inspiring results occur when a client, architects, designers, engineers and other stakeholders work together bouncing ideas, constraints and oppourtunities to create something new which never existed before. Oestensibly creating a new future and new possibilities together.

Drucker writes in the preamble to section I, The Practice of Innovation..."Innovation is the specific tool of entrepreneurs, the means by which they exploit change as an oppourtunity for a different business or a different service. It is capable of being presented as a discipline, capable of being learned, capable of being practiced."

Practicing innovation often leads to 1 + 1 = 3 or 5 or some other unexpected result. Connections are made between certain design contraints which wouldn't have happened without a room-full of people sparking each other to create alternative design outcomes, what ifs, why not this or that etc and rapidly testing them together openly. You never quite know where you'll end up when you begin a new project. Controlling the tendency to make blanket assumptions or to use rules of thumb in lieu of informed assessments of design, environmental, market and other practical constraints feeds innovative thinking.

Brainstorming activities are often helpful to feed innovative connections. Approaching the task like a game is often fun and refreshing. Teams can use word or image associations when design mood or qualities are sought after as a eventual goal. Having someone ask a room full of people questions, write down the shouted out answers, looking for commonalities and divergencies is so important. Small group breakouts with focused assignments also work with a chosen representative sharing with the larger group key ideas or themes considered to help build a broader vision.

Setting up a process to collect ideas, consider and process them, develop constraints and oppourtunities, next actions is very fruitful and one which can be repeated at varying stages of design, starting at the blank piece of paper stage and ending before detailed documentation and bidding might happen. Please share your ideas on how to effectively innovate through collaboration? I'll be adding to this post strand specific examples over the coming months of possible best practices and other sources for learning about design innovation + collaboration.

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