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Innovation Management: The Value of Seeing What You Have

If your job is to get your company, team, or community to innovate, you know how organizational forces can make it hard to even try something new. Visualizing the resources available is an effective first step in overcoming some of those organizational forces. Simply being able to see, and show, what you have allows you to make a compelling case for marshaling resources and even spark some initial interactions in that direction.

The Challenge: Moving Heaven and Earth

Within your organization, processes and structure already exist for doing things, and these can sometimes make it hard to try new things. People lose sight of each other, of what each other is doing, and how they might have worked together. The thought of trying new approaches is painful and sometimes demoralizing. As a result, successful teams may even stagnate.

So innovation managers, research development professionals, and team leaders of all kinds are forced into a battle with organizational inertia. No one can move what feels like a large celestial body or rearrange a solar system.

The Solution: Returning to Primordial Soup

Despite these impeding forces, there are ways that you can visualize the component parts of your teams and the relationships between them, as if the forces didn’t exist. By returning to your community’s primordial soup, you can reimagine and explain how people and their work might collide and recombine to create new things.

Instead of looking at the data you have in lists or tables, network visualizations can uncover relationships you never knew existed. Just seeing the resources available outside of their current structure sets your mind and your audience’s minds free to imagine what could be. You can form cogent notions for why new teams should be formed, where untapped ideas might live, and how novel approaches can be pursued. In fact, they almost pop out of the visualization at you.

An Example in Medical Research

The Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, a collaboration between Brigham & Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, strives to be a “Center without Walls.” Facilitating collaborations among its many researchers and clinical practitioners is critical to its mission of enhancing human health, resilience, and quality of life.

Osher decided to feature on its website maps of connections between individuals and across institutions in both research and clinical practice.

Osher Center research and clinical maps

Just by visualizing their community of researchers and their affiliations, Osher revealed the myriad of collaborations happening across disciplines and institutions.

But they didn’t stop there. They added the researchers’ work product, their publications, to the data.

Osher Center research and clinical maps publications

This illuminated more untapped value. It showed coauthorship, which indicated where in the network map, i.e. who, was a hub for research. They saw the thought leaders in their network and with whom they are already collaborating.

Cross-referencing that with specializations, Osher could see who in their community had already crossed domains and who their collaborators are.

Osher Center research and clinical maps collaborations

One of my favorite sayings is: “If you want something different to happen, you have to do things differently.” Too many of us look at this kind of information in lists or tables. Get modern and you will see new things. It starts with the same data as org charts and personnel directories, but it’s represented differently to expose thought leadership and collaboration.


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