Systems innovation is a new, much-needed, 21st-century capacity that is required by us, as individuals, as organizations, and whole societies to be able to transform the systems we form part of to effectively respond to the complex challenges we face.
A New Kind of Innovation
Systems innovation is a new approach to innovation that tries to tackle complex systemic challenges through the use of systems thinking and new ways of collaborating. It is a kind of innovation that aims to change the underlying structure of a system rather than just any of its individual parts to enable transformational changes - rather than incremental improvements - it is about changing the paradigm.
Organizations and societies face a mounting array of complex challenges from climate change, to political paralysis to major cybersecurity risks. These complex, systemic, and interdependent issues we call "wicked problems". Our traditional linear approaches of fixed long-term planning by centralized organizations do not work so well given their nature. We need to do things differently, we need to innovate. But not just innovate in parts, a new electric car, a new app, or solar panel. We need to innovate in systems. We need new energy systems, educational systems, transport systems
An Issue With The Boxes
In a sense, our traditional ways of thinking based upon linear assumptions leave us without the tools to properly comprehend this new world of complexity and the kinds of challenges it presents to us. The Boxes aren’t fitting the underlying reality. We need a new way of understanding the complex systems we are now dealing with because they are very different from simpler systems. We call this Systems thinking, it helps us to better understand the complexity and how these complex systems really work. When we change the paradigm and start to understand things better we can be 10X more effective in our endeavors to change systems.
New Ways Of Organizing
But innovation is about more than just new ideas, it is also about changing how we do things in practice. With systems innovation, we are not just talking about a new product or service but changing systems is more about how we organize ourselves and get things done. Systems innovation is about creating new platforms, new networks, new spaces for people and organizations to start to collaborate around the challenges they face in more synergistic ways. To move away from re-creating the wheel in our silos and start to work in more synergistic ways through open ecosystems where our efforts add up to something greater than the sum of their parts.
You see, because the systemic "problems" we face are in fact created by the system itself, we don't try to solve them, we dissolve them. The aim is not to fix any specific problem but to help to restructure and redefine how the system works so that it is now set up in a way that enables it to effectively tackle the issue - rather than in a way that is working to create the issue. Ultimately it is about how we collectively work to regenerate systems so that we can overcome the challenges we face on different levels, from small communities, to large global networks.