Innovation is a large and important topic, and there are many different perspectives and definitions of it. It is important to understand the factors which lead to Innovation, since it is considered to be a major driver of economic growth. In the Evidence Based Management course that I'm teaching at UCT, we take the perspective that Innovation only occurs when tangible economic value is realized from the application of new ideas, inventions, or processes.My perspective on this has been informed by my interactions with Prof. Eddie Obeng, Christof Gillet and Jon Foster-Pedley from Pentacle, a virtual business-school that teaches Innovation to business executives around the world. Their perspective of Innovation as a management process that yields economic value (i.e. Money!) has informed the way I approach it in all my endeavors.

The most innovative companies in the world, such as Google, Nokia, P&G, and Johnson & Johnson, don't leave Innovation to chance. They all have systems and management processes to take lots new ideas, reduce them to what can be implemented, and then set-about developing, testing, and launching the new products, processes, and services.

An innovator needn't be a Creative, nor an Inventor. In fact, many innovators simply have systems and processes to apply the creativity and invention of other people to solving problems. This, of course, can be highly profitable.

Edison, for example, is often cited as the inventor of the lightbulb. This however, is inaccurate, as Edison did not invent the light-bulb. He did, however, tackle the problem of disintegrating filaments in electric powered light-bulbs, a problem encountered by people for decades prior to his breakthrough. To achieve his desired result of a long-lasting and inexpensive light filament, he applied a painstaking process of trial and error, working with numerous collaborators and scientists, many of whom contributed their creative ideas for little or no credit. The result of their work was an inexpensive carbon filament, bent into a horse-shoe shape, which lasted longer due to a more efficient vacuum which he obtained. This made the old light-bulb invention usable in cities, and thus elevated it from the realm of invention to Innovation.

We therefore draw the distinction between Creativity, Invention, and Innovation so that we can prioritize the value-creation aspect of Innovation. This allows more people, creative or not, to engage with the subject.

Creativity and Innovation

While creativity often plays a part in the process of innovation, it is not the end in itself. Creative ideas are not always relevant to the market, nor are they necessarily practical. So, in the process of Innovation, creative constraints are drawn to help focus creative ideas on solving a problem.

Invention and Innovation

Invention is probably one-step closer than Creativity to Innovation. A creative idea may spark the design and development of an invention. An invention, in turn, can be applied in the market to create value or change- thus becoming an Innovation.
"An important distinction is normally made between invention and innovation. Invention is the first occurrence of an idea for a new product or process, while innovation is the first attempt to carry it out into practice" (Fagerberg, 2004: 4)

Innovation and Action 

A quote which comes to mind:
"Ideas are a dime a dozen, people who put them into action are priceless".

(I'm not sure who said this, some sources say Einstein, but it might as well be Mastercard).

This perspective on Innovation take it out of the conceptual realm, and into the action and implementation space. The most innovative companies, then will have the most effective systems (or Heuristics) for determining which ideas are relevant (perhaps among many ideas submitted by the crowd), and then rapidly prototyping ideas, and testing and developing them in the market profitably.

If I achieve anything in this part of the course it should be that the students realize that Innovation doesn't always come in a lightning flash of insight,  but it can be managed as a business process to yield consistent results and value over time.
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Web 2.0

The term "Web 2.0" is derived from a naming convention in software, where upgrades that are released in the market get numbered (like Verstion 1.0, 2.0, 3.0 etc). This seems to suggest that the software of the internet has been upgraded, which isn't entirely correct. However, the term is still useful if you look at it as a massive shift in the way the web is being used. Essentially, "Web 2.0", refers to the functionality built into websites that allows people to more easily put their own information on them, to share it with others, and collaborate with them. These websites, then, shift from being simply "websites", to being tools or "applications".

The next "version" of the web (likely to be dubbed "Web 3.0) will allow these websites to integrate with each other even more effectively and naturally - so, for example, you will be able to incorporate many of the sites you regularly visit into one website, which also synchronizes your information, friends and updates so you don't have to repeat yourself all over the place!

Social Media

Social Media, simply put, is a form of media created by people who post information (be that pictures, articles, videos, comments or votes) using Web 2.0 applications (such as blogs etc.). It is primarily driven by Amateurs, although big media companies have started integrating social media into their traditional offering too. This is part of what makes social-media special: it can incorporate other forms of media, increase it's reach into niche communities of interest that are inter-connected on social-media platforms, and enhance it's impact and effect by allowing interaction. So in social-media, the audience can become collaborators.

For this reason, the flow and process of creating Social-Media is often likened to a Conversation, which happens even if no-one actually speaks directly to any person in particular! Social Media depends on interactions between people as the discussion and integration of words, images, and sounds around a multitude of subjects and feelings builds shared-meaning around topics and experiences. For example, if a number of people who attend the same event post their own pictures, blog posts, and videos of it online, then by looking at the array of media around this event anyone will have a better understanding of it than if they just read one newspaper report on it.

Social Computing

Social computing a broader term, which incorporates Social Media. It refers specifically to the "sense-making" effect of all the interactions that are carried out by groups of people online. This is an idea that has been popularized in James Surowiecki's book, The Wisdom of Crowds. Examples of social computing in this sense include collaborative filtering(such as on Muti.co.za), online auctions, prediction markets, reputation systems, computational social choice, tagging, and verification games (A great example is Google's Image Labeler game).

A paper on Social Computing by market research company Forrester Research states:
Easy connections brought about by cheap devices, modular content, and shared computing resources are having a profound impact on our global economy and social structure. Individuals increasingly take cues from one another rather than from institutional sources like corporations, media outlets, religions, and political bodies. To thrive in an era of Social Computing, companies must abandon top-down management and communication tactics, weave communities into their products and services, use employees and partners as marketers, and become part of a living fabric of brand loyalists.

Although these applications are easy to engage with and use, they can be potentially destructive, and costly to organizations and individuals who don't have a strategy and an understanding about what they hope to achieve by engaging with other people on the web in this way.

The term "Social Computing" is often used interchangeably with the term "Web 2.0", although as the Forrester report points out:
Web 2.0 is about specific technologies (blogs, podcasts, wikis, etc) that are relatively easy to adopt and master. Social Computing is about the new relationships and power structures that will result. Think of it another way: Web 2.0 is the building of the Interstate Highway System in the 1950s; Social Computing is everything that resulted next (for better or worse): suburban sprawl, energy dependency, efficient commerce, Americans’ lust for cheap and easy travel.

The following short video, produced by Prof. Michael Wesch as part of the Digital Ethnography working group at Kansas University, demonstrates these concepts well:

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A "meme" is a way of describing information that spreads from person to person like a virus. This concept was the subject of the second lecture I gave on the EBM course that I'm teaching at UCT.

It is theorized that the information comprising these memes influences our thoughts and behaviour to the extent that they are ultimately the transmitters of culture among people. I have found that Memetic theory can be usefully applied to helping our business strategies be understood and applied. It is also useful to understand the concept of a "meme" when structuring word-of-mouth/mouse marketing campaigns.
Memes tend to cluster, into groups of memes that are called "memeplexes" (or meme-complexes). An example of a memeplex, for example, could be a company which comprises elements such as it's brand, it's business processes, its work ethic, financial structure, and even its clothing conventions.

Just as the most successful genes in any species are those which are passed on from generation to generation without mutation, so too are the most successful memes those which are passed from person to person without being fundamentally altered.

Put simply, Success, in both the case of memes and genes, relies on replication.

Even the strongest person's genetic make-up will be diluted in the process of reproduction with another person. Strong memeplexes, on the other hand, may outlive their creators. Plato's genes, for example, have been diluted for generations; but his ideas have lived on through the ages with integrity, despite being translated into many different languages.

Existential issues aside though, successful Commerce, Leadership, Management, and Power rely on the ability of our memeplexes to be replicated successfully among key stakeholders (such as your staff, or your customers). I would suggest that you are more likely to make a real difference if people adopt memes which cause them to act in a way that enable that difference.

We need to be aware of what memes we are passing on, and ensuring that we aren't passing on memes which undermine our greater purpose (be that our Life's Purpose, or simply our company's objectives).

The online space is, of course, one of the best platforms for memeplex distribution, since it allows for easy replication of memes (be they pictures, articles, songs or software). One of the challenges for businesses operating online is to ensure that they aren't too heavily invested in ensuring that their product or service isn't copied. In many cases it makes far more sense to assume that people WILL copy your work, and to esnure that you still stand to benefit in some way from that - for example by using that as an opportunity to sell value-added services.

The video I played in class was of Dan Dennet speaking at TED about Ants, terrorism, and the awesome power of memes. In it he mentions how the germs brought by European explorers wiped out native populations who hadn't developed immunity to them. He draws a parallel with how one culture's toxic memes around (such as pr0n0gr4phy or sm0k1ng), around which cultural defense mechanisms (immunity) has been developed, can destroy other cultures. And bearing in mind that there are ideas (or memes) that people are prepared to die for, that this can cause real problems and real conflict. This will be touched on in more depth in the upcoming lectures on the effects of Globalization.

The other video that I played was of Seth Godin's talk at TED where he speaks from the marketing perspective about how "ideas that spread win". He talks about "remarkable" ideas (those ideas worth remarking about to another person) as the most successful ideas in a hyper-connected economy. This alludes to the subject of Viral Marketing.

We highlighted the importance of organizational storytelling in this context. The impact of particular stories on each of our lives may be something that we will explore in tutorials.

Issues of Morality will be dealt with in subsequent weeks, but at this stage it is important to simply acknowledge that our culture, products, and actions are imbued with ideas and stories (memes). It is also important to be aware of that much of your own behavior today may have resulted from memeplexes which you have adopted as your own in the past, when your critical defenses (or immunity) was not fully developed.

Lastly, a quote worth debating or thinking about in the context of Memetics:

"Reality is the temporary result of continuous struggles between rival gangs of programmers." — Robert Anton Wilson

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I started lecturing on a course at UCT on Monday called Evidence Based Management. In it I'll be covering three topics over 5 weeks - Attention Economics, Innovation, and Globalization. The topics are chosen to help students contextualize their role in the economy, new business, and the world at large. Of course, I'll try and make it as exciting and engaging as possible - which will be reflected, I guess, in how many students are left at lectures by the end of the term!

There are 900 students on the course, and I'm working with 21 tutors. By the end of my first day of lecturing to such a large group (and with all the admin and prep that it entails), I was exhausted! But, based on feedback it's going well.

Lectures are on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 2 - 5pm (three 45 minute slots). If you'd like to attend pop a comment below and I'll post the lecture venues. Otherwise, I'll be as diligent as possible about writing a blog post about the topic of each lecture, along with related reading material. Consider it e-learning:)
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