The Quantum Innovation

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The task of explaining the innovation phenomena is not trivial. We still don’t have a general theory that explains all the details for the creative phenomena of innovation. The amount of variables and factors are really immense and the interactions among the agents are quite complex. Somehow, innovation seams to involve the right people, with the right way of thinking, in the right time and with the sufficient resources to make it happen. However, the search for better theories for the innovation phenomena cannot stop. Deeper and broader explanations to the emergence of innovations will help us enhance our ability to solve problems and maybe help us escape from our current stage, where, sometimes, while solving certain problems we end up creating more.

After a few years studding Quantum Theory, I am convinced that a correlation with some fundamental concepts from the philosopher and physicist David Bohm can help us in this difficult challenge. My attempt in this post is just to introduce the concepts and to suggest this correlation; a more intense and detailed explanation is exactly what I am working at the moment.

But before we explore the concepts from quantum theory that could be useful for an innovation theory, we need to talk about causality, or the notion that there are certain causes for certain events. The usual approach to quantum physics, known as the Copenhagen interpretation defends the idea of indeterminism, also known as the Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. As the experiments demonstrated the incapacity of measuring the position and velocity of an electron at the same time in the subatomic level, this interpretation believes that we should accept the indeterminism as a fact of nature. However, there is another interpretation that understands differently the mysterious behavior of particles at the quantum level, this is the hidden variables theory suggested by David Bohm. Bohm, which was a close friend of Einstein, did not believe that indeterminism was the way of reality, but the perception of indeterminism was due to our temporary ignorance of certain causes. Once we know these hidden variables, indeterminism becomes determinism. As the philosopher of science Karl Popper would add – all variables begin hidden. They only stop being so when the theories using them are successful.

I believe that although it is extremely difficult to predict the innovation phenomena, innovation is not an accident. Someone could even say that innovators don’t play dice. But, there are hidden variables that once we know them we are able to explain and point how that set of variables produced that innovation. Therefore, our challenge is to move towards a theory of hidden variables of innovation.

To summarize Bohm’s fundamental concepts in a post is probably an impossible task. But, thankfully Professor Kevin J. Sharpe managed to synthesize the cosmologic and metaphysic ideas of Bohm in 5 main concepts which I would like to explore and make some connections with innovation:

  1. Reality has an endless depth – the reality, the context is never exhaustive. There will always be properties and qualities beyond our capacity to understand. A theory about something is a limited insight, because every object or process has an infinite number of sides to it.
  2. The parts of reality relate to each other – represents the idea that everything is connected to everything and it is the totality, the whole, which is fundamental. The view that we could isolate the parts is an illusion and promotes fragmentation in our thinking, which to Bohm it is the cause of most of our problems.
  3. The whole and the parts of reality are in movement – in other words, there is a holomovement, where everything is in constant change, a process that folds and unfolds orders or arrangements. The explicate order (reality as we perceive) and the implicate order (the arrangement and laws that explain/produces the explicate). So, everything is in flow and any attempt to freeze is artificial.
  4. The movement of reality is creative – the holomoviment is creative. “There are no objects, entities, or substances, but… all that is [observable] comes into existence… remains relatively stable for some time, and then passes out of existence.” Each piece of reality continuously forms, reforms, transforms, and ceases to be.
  5. Reality is arranged in systems of hierarchies – there are levels of hierarchies in which the validity of a set of laws does not have to go beyond the level to which it belongs. Reality is a system of hierarchies of infinite number of levels, for example, the subatomic level of particles obey the laws of probabilities and the level of our daily experience is described by the laws of kinetics from classical mechanics.

The correlation that we can make with these concepts to innovation is broad and has many angles, but clearly suggests a more dynamic way where the intention is not to isolate the parts but on how the parts relate. The emergency of the innovation phenomena is in the whole, in the totality, in how the parts interact to each other. It suggests that innovation is in the pattern of interactions of the system (context, people, resources, cognition, culture and etc.) not in any isolated agent.

Some methodological progress was recently made in the innovation field by the interaction with other areas, for example, the incorporation of principles from strategic planning, anthropology and design, resulting on the approach known as design thinking. However, this is still a very limited step. What I would like to point out here is that we could go much further and develop more deep and broad interpretations if we interact with many other areas such as philosophy, cognitive science, physics, biology, complex theory and chaos theory, among others. These areas are also illusory divisions, as Popper said, “We are students of problems, not disciplines.”

Our problem is to improve the way we solve problems.

Everything here seams very broad, too abstract and far a way from our careers and life of our organizations, but the true is that these are conceptual principles that are capable of changing fundamentally everything. They can change our purpose and the way we operate – communication, organization structure, learning dynamics and decision making. These are concepts capable of liberating us from the linear-mechanical mindset and making our results match our intentions, something that rarely happens today. Therefore, we need to look for the hidden variables!


Chaotic Innovations

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Some people might be surprised to know that all innovations come from chaos, that innovation in reality is a typical example of a chaotic process. For chaos, is exactly what we avoid when we design or interact within a new system. But, the same way chaos creates hurricanes, rivers, traffic jams or blood vessels it also creates innovation.

The scientific concept of chaos refers to the interconnectedness that is present in apparently random events. It relates to the hidden patterns that we are not able to perceive, an order that we just don’t understand, or as the great theoretical physicist David Peat put it “chaos and chance don’t mean the absence of law and order, but rather the presence of order so complex that it lies beyond our ability to grasp and describe it”.

Chaos theory shows that little things matter. That apparently insignificant things can end up playing a big role as the time passes. That complexity can arise from simplicity in the same way that simplicity can generate complexity. It also teach us that the reality in not as binary and defined as we are used to think – mind and body, theory and practice, life and death, winner and looser, creative and mediocre.

Chaos teaches us that everything is in flow. We generally think in the steps from beginning to end. We blindly believe in our plans. That we plan and execute and measure in sequence, and that after we plan is just a matter of implementing and all will be finished and perfect. We are just not used to think in cycles and flows.

Innovation is not a random event. Although it has innumerous variables and it is unpredictable it fundamentally involves the discovering of a new order. Innovation is an order that is emerges in people’ head. It doesn’t emerges in technology or in processes but, so far, only in people’ minds. Therefore, inspired by the chaotic nature of our minds I would like to suggest three ‘practical’ things which I believe could help us to perceive these new orders and innovate more often.

First, more time to our minds – more time to think. I find people in large organization increasing busy with activities which are mechanical and involves many analytical competences but don’t help going deep on the issues or on the development of conceptual competences. Most or our time is spend in emails and meetings. So we have to understand that thinking is work.

Second, sensitiveness to the little things – with more time to think we have to develop a deeper sensitiveness to perceive people’s motivation and energy levels; as well as sensitiveness to feel the context. To reduce the current level of anxiety and arrive to a state of alert capable of perceiving the nuances and subtleties of the system.

And third, humbleness – with more time to think and more sensitiveness we will see how little we know. Than we should be more humble and prepared to live with doubt and uncertainty. To develop honesty and to be more prepared to collaborate and dialogue with others. As the most important lesson of chaos is exactly that, at a deeper level, everything is connected to everything.