The Paradoxical Challenges to Innovation

There are four main paradoxical pairings that must be effectively balanced in order to support innovation over the long term. At the core of these is the paradox of ‘exploration’ vs ‘preservation,’ both of which are important for sustainable innovation. On the one hand ‘exploration’ requires setting up an agile culture that supports breakthrough innovation, while ‘preservation’ requires ensuring a secure foundation is maintained for incremental innovation through the exploitation and development of existing products and services.

Paradox 1: Freedom + Control

This involves setting up opportunities to challenge existing systems and structures (shared decision making), along with providing clear visionary guidelines (a principle-based innovation strategy). Too much freedom can mean the innovation process will become chaotic, while too much control (through excessive bureaucracy) can lead to an oppressive stifling of creativity.

Principle 2: Openness + Focus

There need to be connections with diverse people and ideas (community consultation, community service, attending conferences, etc.), along with more targeted opportunities to cater to specific needs (flexible work-from-home time). There should be spaces that can actively foster collaboration (co-working areas), along with places where individuals can focus on tasks (enclosed private spaces). Too much openness can lead to a lot of great ideas but no clear direction, while too much focus can lead to insulation and unoriginal ideas.

Principle 3: Group engagement + Individualism

People will need to have the skills and tools to collaborate effectively to come up with unified solutions (through strategic training), along with the autonomy to follow through on different possibilities (independent work plans). Have rewards for both individual and team creative efforts. Too much of a group focus can lead to groupthink, while too much individualism can lead to disconnection and isolation.

Principle 4: Flexibility + Stability

Ensure there is the flexibility to adapt with rapid change (agile approval processes), along with systems to support innovation implementation (consistent resources and support). Too much flexibility can lead to a lack of follow through, while too much stability can lead to rigidity and no opportunities for real transformation.

Summing-up: All of these factors are fairly interrelated, so where there is a struggle in one area, the other areas also tend to be impacted, but usually the effectiveness of the balance between freedom and control is an important indication of whether a culture will be ready for innovative growth in the other areas.

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