Connecting the Dots: Innovation in the Knowledge Age

Connecting the Dots: Becoming a Knowledge Age Innovator

Interesting 2009 short article by Deborah Westphal of Toffler Associates

Key points include:

  • Innovation is essential to the long-term success of every organization. But innovation isn’t what it used to be.
  • Discovery doesn’t occur in a vacuum. Innovators have always relied on ideas that have come before or are emerging in parallel.
  • The Knowledge Age provides new ways to make connections between ideas. Easier travel and improved methods of communication allow people everywhere to work together to solve problems.
  • Technological advances have also created a knowledge infrastructure that enables enterprises and countries to leverage discoveries made far outside their borders. The open, boundless, real-time sharing of ideas is fundamental to modern innovation
  • Everything’s a mash-up and a re-mix. Think of this as connecting the dots. By making connections among seemingly disparate ideas, institutions and individuals, innovators create something that’s truly more than the sum of its parts. Organizations wishing to innovate must methodically and tirelessly build and nurture these networks. Doing so enables organizations to approach innovation asking not just  “What can we produce next?” but the more vital question of “Who do we need to be?”
  • Today organizations can and must start with a picture of the future it seeks to build. That future identity, the role the organization will play and the contribution it will make in years to come, orients the organization and its people, guiding them as they foster the relationships that fuel innovation.
  • Once a vision for the future is established, an organization can begin to foster innovation by understanding its drivers, committing the right resources and fostering the climate necessary for the development of new ideas and solutions.


  • The two most significant may be challenges and threats. If necessity is the mother of invention, challenge is its father. Today more than ever, we can be spurred by the so-called impossible questions that other innovators are posing and answering.
  • The most critical organizational resource is people. To be innovative, organizations need culturally intuitive, curious, anticipatory, proactive, collaborative, multidisciplinary, and personally networked individuals who can connect ideas and technologies in new ways to produce something better. The cultivation of an innovative culture begins with smart investments in human resources.
  • In the Knowledge Age, public and private organizations must remain focused on innovation to sustain their competitive edge and long-term relevance.
  • Dedicate the organization to identifying and prioritizing the organization’s key drivers and imperatives, allocating sufficient resources to support the innovation process and cultivating an environment that supports innovative practices, one in which innovation is not just tolerated but embraced as the most critical step in creating the organizations future. 
  • Innovation is about the future, the future of individuals, organizations and society in general.
  • Sustained success hinges on the ability to adapt to or alter the environment through internal and external connections among individuals and ideas. Connecting those dots successfully over time is the sine qua non of innovation today and in the future.
  • At its heart innovation is change, and in the environment of today and tomorrow it’s driven by connections and networks among innovators in a way that is fundamentally different than in the past.
  • Understanding the forces driving that change, seeing from where new ideas are emerging and recognizing how to connect to and leverage them will be the points of differentiation.



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