Can you have Innovation without Exnovation?

by Paul Hobcraft

Can you have Innovation without Exnovation?I was some time back reminded about the term “exnovation” in an interim report prepared for NESTA by the City University, London and the Work Psychology Group entitled “Characteristics & Behaviors of Innovative People in Organizations.”

Exnovation is if you were unaware, is at the end of the innovation life-cycle, where it “discards” or even purges existing practices to allow the organization to adopt different and fresh thinking to any new innovation activities. A number of writers have discussed exnovation but its first use was attributed to Kimberly in 1981, who described innovation as a series of processes which in combination define an innovation life-cycle (Fiona Patterson, City University for NESTA).

Exnovation can also be an opportunity to discard existing practices or improve on them. During projects, a lot of junk tends to build up in terms of policies, practices, rules and regulations – many of which may have outlived their utility. It’s an examination of what’s working and what doesn’t. Exnovation gives us the opportunity to jettison what is no longer relevant and the space to create something more relevant to the current project.

The practice of exnovation at the end of a project can also enable us to develop a fresh perspective and acknowledge the ingenuity that often takes place as an idea evolves from concept to a successful launch into the marketplace. We need to appreciate these moments of inspiration and give them their appropriate recognition. This final life-cycle step can measure the new creativity and competence that was brought into play and so produce a more dynamic innovation system that seeks constant renewal through exnovation.

Another area where I believe the process of exnovation has some value is with open innovation. Because open innovation invites people from outside of the organization to be part of innovation projects, the conditions and participants tend to be different for each project. A formal review process should be put in place and the end of each open innovation project to determine what was successful about the project, and what wasn’t. These learnings should then be incorporated into our innovation processes.

Finally, I think exnovation is very relevant and necessary when creative destruction or the need to disrupt is required – seriously challenging the existing practices to spot new opportunities.

In summary, then, exnovation is the process of eliminating the unsustainable, irrelevant or unsuitable to constantly improve and renew the innovation process. Have you adopted this practice yet?

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Paul HobcraftPaul Hobcraft runs Agility Innovation, an advisory business that stimulates sound innovation practice, researches topics that relate to innovation for the future, as well as aligning innovation to organizations core capabilities.

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  1. Paul,

    Very interesting post…and one that I agree with. Here’s a similar thought from one of my favorites–Peter Drucker–regarding this same topic.

    “When the French economist J. B. Say coined the word entrepreneur 200 years ago, he meant it as a manifesto and a declaration of intent: the entrepreneur in his scheme was someone who upsets and disorganizes. Later, Joseph Schumpeter, the only modern economist to take entrepreneurship seriously, described the process as “creative destruction.” To get at the new and better, you have to throw out the old, outworn, obsolete, no longer productive, as well as the mistakes, failure and misdirections of effort of the past. To put it another way, think of the old medical saying: ‘As long as the patient eliminates there is a chance. But once the bowels and bladder stop, death does not take long.’ If organizations cannot get rid of their waste products, they poison themselves. They must organize abandonment, a most difficult thing to do, because most organizations develop a strong attachment to the products they make.”

    Again, good article!

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