Redefining “the edge”

On their book-brand site, John Seely Brown and John Hagel have a nicely articulate PDF up for grabs for anyone who wants to register. The article is called “Interest Rates vs. Innovation Rates.”

Here’s a nice bit:

In their relentless quest for efficiency, companies have tended to shy away from the edge. Edges represent uncertainty, while executives crave predictability. Edges generate friction as employees explore, experiment and tinker with unfamiliar needs and opportunities, while management roots out friction wherever it can. With appropriate management techniques, friction can become highly productive, generating valuable innovation and learning.

I’ve been hearing lots of level-headed, wise CEO’s lately say that they’re not interested in the “cutting edge” or that super-radical “bleeding edge”: that it’s not always prudent to be first or do something for the sake of novelty or hype.

But that depends on how you define the edges. The way they talk about edges, typically, is as a straw-man concept. (Who the heck *does* want to do something new for its own sake?? )

The problem is when that kind of thinking makes us comfortable with the status quo and slow, tunnel-visioned, incremental improvement. What I like about this article is that Hagel & Brown are redefining what “edge” means.

The point is that edges represent the intersection of established ways of doing things with new needs and new possibilities. It is this ntersection that creates a fertile ground for innovation and capability building. Employees are forced out of their comfort zones and pushed to question and refine traditional practices.

Asking hard questions about the edges is a great way to start.

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