While the grant program uses the Conventional ideas (they are built into the very fabric of applying for a grant), Social Network practices guided our efforts to support grantees and strengthen their projects. At the same time that we believe there is nothing more practical than good theory, complexity science is an emerging discipline. “Emerging” in the sense that it is the science that studies emergence and that the science is relatively young in its development.
As a result, all the actions designed to the support the grantees had a feeling of ensemble improvisation. The practical knowledge needed to move forward effectively can rarely if ever be gathered in a single place. Talent, creativity, and working knowledge are fully distributed in an innovation effort. Finding what will work will always be a bit of improvisation, serious playfulness, mis-directions, getting lost, and happy discoveries. Living with and dealing with surprise involves thinking in terms of how to use whatever happens.
Only those who risk going too far
can possibly know how far one can actually go. T.S. Eliot
As we reflect on our efforts to support the innovators in each grantee team, the big lessons learned include:
1.Social networks help to sustain innovators, bolstering resilience and creating an environment conducive to taking risks (e.g., grantees urge each other on)
2.The spread of a new idea or technology takes longer than anticipated and more grit than is imagined
Technology may seem like the tough part of innovation, but in the end, spreading a new idea or technology rests on the quality of human interaction among trusted peers and opinion leaders
Innovation is content neutral -- grantees and the Foundation staff can help one another without working on similar practices or technologies
Innovation requires a different form of progressive evaluation; over-reliance on conventional evaluation may stunt innovations
Momentum for early adoption rarely emanates from senior leaders but rather peers who see the potential and are willing to help vet the innovation
Engaging widening circles of diverse collaborators in prototype development and vetting can accelerate spread
Maintaining alertness to “surprise” opportunities to insinuate your innovation – from above and below - can accelerate spread
Evidence that an innovation is an advance over current practice only gets you in the door, direct experience in trying out the innovation accelerates spread