It's not all lightbulbs


W Patrick McCray asks us to "abandon the cult of the great white innovator" in this Aeon article from 2016: It's not all lightbulbs.

McCray says that too much coverage of innovation focusses on a few (mostly white, male) geniuses making massive breakthroughs. It uses language (eg "cloud") that suggests an ethereal world of disembodied, electric connectedness. He counters this with accounts of innovation that show how important are the efforts of more mundane characters, and dull things like standards and regulations, and the vital role of finite physical resources and labour.

He writes, "If we leave the shadow of the cult of the Great White Innovator theory of historical change, we can see farther, and deeper.

"The global view shifts the focus from Manchester, Lowell, Detroit and Silicon Valley. It involves accepting that innovation and technological change are more than just making things. Ironically, this allows us to begin to glimpse a more familiar world where activities such as maintenance, repair, use and re-use, recycling, obsolescence and disappearance dominate. A much more global picture, one that includes people whose lives and contributions the Great White Innovator narrative marginalised, comes into view."

It's a fascinating article. It prompts us, as facilitators, to reflect on how we design meetings. It's easy to get lured into supporting glamorised, breathless ideas of innovation and change. There is often pressure on big meetings to deliver decisive action.

But real change is far more complex and less capable of control. Lots of real world practical issues - and real human beings - exert influence. Change, when it happens, is created by lots of small interactions. Allowing groups to become more aware of the richness of their experience, the diversity of their views, and the subtle connections among them, may create more opportunities for innovation. 

The linked Aeon article - hail the maintainers - is also worth reading. It's a good reminder to think about the infrastructure of meetings - do they create space for reflection and deeper conversations about what matters? Let's not get too fixated on guaranteeing outcomes.

(Photo: Priscilla du Preez on Unsplash)