Wild thinkers and reliable doers: Fostering Innovation in Networks

It’s an old idea (but still strong I think) that heterogeneity in networks is linked to innovativeness and homogeneity is linked to stability. However, we are not just talking about: What are the networks that produce the wildest, newest, most excitingly buzzing ideas? But: what are the networks, where new ideas actually come to fruition? Now the answer is far less simple.

Looking at organizations I know, I would say, you need a network that has heterogeneous and homogeneous areas that are responsible for different parts of the creative and practical process that leads from having a new idea through testing, implementing to mainstreaming an innovation. So in the different parts of your organization you need people with different networking capabilities. Have some wild thinkers, who like socializing with people far beyond their own field, who develop fluctuating, heterogeneous not very stable networks of inspiration and can serve as a floodgate of new ideas for your organization. But make sure that you team them up with people who network a bit more conservatively, who can channel and filter these ideas into something suitable for your field – however, these people have to be open enough, to see as good idea even if it comes from a different field. And then you need your technical experts, who do the nitty gritty testing and perfecting and have reliable long term networks with people from very similar fields that allow them to turn the idea into a state-of-the-art reliable application. From there you go to the more heterogeneous networkers again, when you look at targeting audiences for implementation.

The challenge: People often tend to want with people of a similar kind, so you’ll easily end up with teams of wild thinkers, who have the greatest and grandest ideas that never see the light of day – or with teams of reliable conservatively thinking experts, who will get you perfect and reliable applications that are rather uninspiring and not very innovative.

So if you look at innovativeness in networks it’s not enough to look as a general heterogeneity index. Rather understand the different heterogeneity needs that occur along the process.

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