Exnovation’s place in the innovation life cycle

I was some time back reminded about the term “exnovation” in an interim report prepared for NESTA by the City University, London and the Work Psychology Group entitled “Characteristics & Behaviours of Innovative People in Organizations.”

Exnovation is if you were unaware, is at the end of the innovation life-cycle, where it “discards” or even purges existing practices to allow the organization to adopt different and fresh thinking to any new innovation activities. A number of writers have discussed exnovation but its first use was attributed to Kimberly in 1981, who described innovation as a series of processes which in combination define an innovation life-cycle (Fiona Patterson, City University for NESTA).

Exnovation can also be an opportunity to discard existing practices or improve on them. During projects, a lot of junk tends to build up in terms of policies, practices, rules and regulations – many of which may have outlived their utility. It’s an examination of what’s working and what doesn’t. Exnovation gives us the opportunity to jettison what is no longer relevant and the space to create something more relevant to the current project.

The practice of exnovation at the end of a project can also enable us to develop a fresh perspective and acknowledge the ingenuity that often takes place as an idea evolves from concept to a successful launch into the marketplace. We need to appreciate these moments of inspiration and give them their appropriate recognition. This final life-cycle step can measure the new creativity and competence that was brought into play and so produce a more dynamic innovation system that seeks constant renewal through exnovation.

Another area where I believe the process of exnovation has some value is with open innovation. Because open innovation invites people from outside of the organization to be part of innovation projects, the conditions and participants tend to be different for each project. A formal review process should be put in place and the end of each open innovation project to determine what was successful about the project, and what wasn’t. These learnings should then be incorporated into our innovation processes.

Finally, I think exnovation is very relevant and necessary when creative destruction or the need to disrupt is required – seriously challenging the existing practices to spot new opportunities.

In summary, then, exnovation is the process of eliminating the unsustainable, irrelevant or unsuitable to constantly improve and renew the innovation process. Have you adopted this practice yet?

One thought on “Exnovation’s place in the innovation life cycle

  1. I tell the following story in my innovation course here at the university. I use it for a different purpose, but it also illustrates the need for exnovation nicely.

    Once a week, a young married couple ate fried fish for dinner. One day, the husband said to his wife, “darling, your fish is delicious, but I can’t help noticing that the head and the tail of the fish are missing. Why do you always remove them?”

    She replied, “I don’t know the reason. It’s just how my mother taught me to fry fish.”

    So they both went off to visit the wife’s mother, and the wife asked, “mother, why did you teach me to cut off the head and the tail of the fish before frying it?”

    The mother replied, , “I don’t know the reason. It’s just how my mother – your grandmother – taught me to fry fish.”

    So all three of them went off to visit the grandmother, and the mother asked, “mother, why did you teach me to cut off the head and the tail of the fish before frying it?”

    And the grandmother replied, “because 40 years ago, we only had a very small frying pan!”


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