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Special Symposium

Innovation, Emergence, and Communication

A Workshop on Innovation

Tue Mar 22, 2016                                

0830 – 1500   Watkins 275/285


Innovation has become a top priority for the Navy and DOD.  Many students want to organize their thesis research to lead to innovations.   Unfortunately, the common approaches about innovation adoption are based on flawed theories and cannot produce the results they seem to promise.  We will explore a new story about innovation and will de-mystify innovation, design, emergence, navigation, mobilization, and adoption.  We will examine how we as a Navy can raise our innovation success rate above the prevailing 4 percent.


Innovations are new practices that emerge in response to concerns in communities.  Innovators shape the response and guide its adoption.  Innovators often encounter resistance among those most affected by the displacement.  The ability to innovate depends critically on communicating requests, promises, offers, declarations, and assessments, as well as on listening, especially for concerns, emotions, and moods.  We will examine the basics of effective communication for innovation.

Space of Action

Innovation theories exist in a "mental space" -- they are objects in the mind and knowledge that supposedly can be applied in practice. Innovations however are not mental, then are changes in the physical practices of people in a social space. People are usually unsuccessful at "applying" mental models in social spaces because they lack the social practices described by the models. No one expects that a sports journalist, who writes in detail why the quarterback could not win the game, to quarterback on the field himself. He "knows what" a quaterback does but he does not "know how" to do it himself. The only way he could put his quarterbacking ideas into action on a team would be to train with the team until he had acquired enough skill. Innovation is the same way. You have to acquire the skills through practice so that you can be consistently successful with the moves needed to accomplish the social change you ultimately seek. When we speak about achieving adoption, we will be discussing the skills needed to move effectively in the social space you want to change. They are not hard, but they do require practice and perhaps some help from a coach or mentor.

Workshop Leaders

Peter Denning, Distinguished Professor, and Nick Dew, Associate Professor, will lead an exploration into innovation emergence and the skill sets innovators use to facilite and shape emergences. Because the skill sets rest on effective communication, we will include a section on communication as acts of commitments and subsequent actions.

Agenda (Tue Mar 22, 2016, 0830-1500):

1 hr What do you know about innovation? Why theories fail.
1 hr Emergence, design, ideation, adoption
1 hr The power of language at shaping worlds
1 hr Communication as commitments and action, including conversations for action and possiblities
2.5 hr The skill set: Detecting, Appropriating, navigating, offering, mobilizing


Innovating the Future, Futurist article
Overview of the eight practices, 8P Summary
(*) Why our theories of innovation fail us, CACM article
(*) How to produce innovations, CACM article
Flores's account of innovation (with Fernando Flores), Emergent Innovation
Basis of the skill set, Surfing toward the future
Chile Report, Chile Report
Design thinking in computing commentary, Design Thinking
For managing your personal commitments, Managing Time
For managing your coordinations, Managing Time, Part 2
For well grounded assessments, The Grounding Practice
For recognizing and managing moods, Moods
For managing group moods, Moods, Part 2
For commitments, identity, history, and CFAs, The Other Side of Language
Sudden unpredictable changes looming, Avalanches are coming
(**) Cultivating new military leadership sensibilities, Being in uncertainty

Read-aheads prior to Mar 22:
(*) strongly recommended, (**) recommended.

Related Books

Denning, Peter, and Robert Dunham. 2010. The Innovator's Way. MIT Press.

Gibson, Rowan. 2015. The Four Lenses of Innovation. Wiley. [A good account of ideation consistent with the emergence interpretation.]

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Bring your own lunch. 



Peter Denning is an NPS Distinguished Professor, Director of Cebrowski Institute, and co-author of The Innovator’s Way (MIT Press, 2010).

Nick Dew is an Associate Professor in GSBPP.  He teaches strategy and researches innovation and entrepreneurship.

Produced by the Cebrowski Institute

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