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The Ritualization of Creation--The Role of Ritual In Innovation

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on January 5, 2010

I was once nearly thrown out of a brainstorming session at IDEO and it marked me for life. No kidding. I behaved the way I always behave at a meeting—agreeing and disagreeing with the participants. So, in reaction to a comment, I said “yes, but….” and was pummeled by the IDEOers for my transgression. My sin was not knowing the ritual of social engagement that generated new ideas. In most good brainstorming sessions, the goal is to build upon others suggestions, not criticize or eliminate them. I was using an efficiency—choice screen to make decisions on the suggestions and prioritize them. The people around the table were using a generative—additive screen requiring a very different behavior.

Ritual plays a significant, if not well understood, role in innovation. Silicon Valley has been successful, in large part, due to the ritualization of creation. It is not just the fact of an innovation ecosystem there, but how it engages socially in choosing new technologies, entrepreneurs, investors. There is a very specific set of rituals that go into collaboration and risk-taking. There is a distinct ritual dealing with how people engage failure (the US is one of the few cultures that accepts and celebrates failure as a learning medium).

Ditto for social media. A whole new set of rituals has grown up off of Facebook and Twitter that are different from traditional church socials or bowling leagues. Gen Yers have new sets of rituals around their technological platforms that differ from their parents and grandparents—and make the technology useful to them.

Perhaps one reason why robots and robotics has been an innovation failure for so many decades is that the field has been dominated by engineers and technologists who aren’t “social” and can’t create new rituals that connect people to their creations and engage them.

Food for thought as the New Decade unfolds.

Reader Comments


January 5, 2010 10:29 PM

Very insightful!
Once had the opportunity to observe the intersection of an engineering group and a human-user interface group. Engineers needed the HUI people to tell them how human communication works, in order to apply a technology to a video-conferencing software. Alas, there was no whiteboard. Aphasia resulted.

hazel wagner PhD

January 6, 2010 10:36 PM

I 'grew' up in engineering companies working against the grain to build creative marketing ideas into our mix. Now I pay attention to the thinking styles of those around me as I find ways to bring all types into the building on ideas for fruitful innovation. Even us creative types need the engineering types to round out the types of ideas brought forth.

Julie Gay

January 9, 2010 5:07 PM

I examine the future of production agriculture. Producers' abilities to innovate are the most overlooked in all of business and industry. Innovation in this business segment has significance for farmers, small towns and state and regional economies.

Most importantly, farmers don't stand on ritual as noted above. They just do! I may say very successfully too. Thank you.

Mark Faga

January 14, 2010 4:23 PM

I always thought that the building on others' comments were more rules than ritual. Brainstorming sessions are kind of like a game where you are working together as a team to develop new thinking. While in the framework of the game, you follow the rules of that reality.

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Want to stop talking about innovation and learn how to make it work for you? Bruce Nussbaum takes you deep into the latest thinking about innovation and design with daily scoops, provocative perspectives and case studies. Nussbaum is at the center of a global conversation on the growing discipline of innovation and the deepening field of design thinking. Read him to discover what social networking works—and what doesn’t. Discover where service innovation is going and how experience design is shaping up. Learn which schools are graduating the most creative talent and which consulting firms are the hottest. And get his take on what the smartest companies are doing in the U.S., Asia and Europe, far ahead of the pack.

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