The Spark Blog

An occasional series of thoughts and reflections on the role of narrative in organizational change, branding and knowledge work


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It has a touch of alchemy to it. And much rational thinking, planning and physical sweat and tears also go into the distillation of so much innovation energy into what tomorrow will hold. In the last weeks, we have seen up close much of London’s incubation world, in finance, in technology, in policy and many other areas. We have also had a long-standing interest in futures. So, much of what is coming together here and now calls for a pause and reflect.

Let’s start with InfoNet 2014 which we produced on behalf of FIA Europe, at Grocer’s Hall in the City of London, and with hexagons.


InfoNet participants spent a few hours on Tuesday 8 July reflecting on their individual and collective take on innovation in derivatives, including the scope for new products, new technologies and new services. They summed up their views on big data, disruptive technology, incubation and financial technology in small conversation huddles, using the highly disruptive method of notes on hexagon-shaped cards, which as an object for us sum up much of what innovation is about: finding a new way to see the familiar and looking back to look forward. As our long-standing friend, Professor Clive Holtham from Cass Business School, says:

We have become increasingly dissatisfied with the rectangle and square as the key shapes in brainstorming. They are widely available and cheap, but they limit us to rectilinear thinking when it comes to the clustering and sequencing of ideas. An optimal shape in this regard is the hexagon, and you only need to look to the natural world to see just how effective that shape is. We have had no hesitation in using admittedly expensive post-it style hexagons for high-stakes creative thinking.

 high stakes creative thinking

So, if the energy to shape change emerges from dissatisfaction with the current status-quo, there is also innovation driven by what we don’t know we don’t know. Or what we have but don’t yet see as valuable. We have summed up many of our thoughts on what makes for high-stakes and fruitful disruption in two places, which we point to here to contribute our views to what we are seeing around us:

It’s not just developing new thinking that’s the challenge, it’s embedding that thinking in the organization so that it can start to make a difference to performance. People need to notice and embrace new ideas, react quickly and be prepared to develop and work in new networks.

In becoming a network of curiosity, what can individuals do, individually and together, to take responsibility for the heightened awareness and collective strange-making and sense-making that are vital for innovation?

If each individual in an innovation network, and the whole network together, disturb the present by thinking of long, deep futures, by making the familiar strange and by having more coffee together, the cumulative impact of that network of curiosity can be extraordinary in all kinds of ways.

some practical thoughts

Underpinning the big picture of what creates the right environment to incubate the future, from achingly hip incubation spaces such as Level 39 and Wavra to back-of-envelope thinking, there is also the here and now, day to day. Some things we have heard that are useful reminders of what helps an innovation mindset grow include:

  • innovative collaboration between competitors, or co-opetition
  • increased regulation as an opportunity not a barrier to doing business and to innovation
  • listening to other industries, drawing parallels, challenging why “it won’t work for us”
  • thinking straight into the cloud and mobile
  • establishing an open dialogue between the established and the disruptor
  • positioning innovation as washing its own face, not as a goldmine from the start in a commercially-driven environment
  • a belief that the right people, given autonomy, will find new ways – not people programmed to maintain the status quo and not people unable to translate the future into today.

and a couple of questions

Finally, this huge topic will keep us busy for a while. Two questions emerge at this point though in relation to what we care about and we’d like to record these here and most likely come back to them as they mature:

What’s the story? Innovation is on everyone’s minds. But what does it mean, in practice, to teams and individuals? Behind the big story of why and what lie many small “how” stories that we believe will be an important record of this pivotal shift into new thinking.

Whose story is it? If innovation emerges more from an organic system than from a heroic mind, how can the many voices that make up the story of where a project, initiative or investment came from be part of its future. Small traces underpinning big shifts.

Answers on a hexagon. 


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