Why an Innovation System is not enough.

Systems view reality in a mechanical way. While reality is made up of both artifacts (‘mechanical’) and nature’s pure creations , by fiction and non-fiction. Systemic view is a good map of understanding reality, but just a map, a lens. Same with the topic of organizational innovation.

When you view innovation or creativity through only one such lens, you miss the whole view, understanding and potential of manipulation of the concept. Like any other map, the systemic one has borders – which means there is something else left outside. Who decides what to leave outside, is the one using this map; the larger his view of life, the larger the systemic view of innovation, for example.

As an executive officer dealing with innovation, you have a larger than common understanding of business innovation; your systemic view is wider and deeper, your lens is more profound. But as any system is a mechanical and well structured way of perceiving reality, the same with this system. Most probably it lacks the ‘natural’ approach to innovation and creativity, the ‘messy’ one. Systems bring order to any reality. But reality is messy, is chaotic,, is fractal, is natural, hard to grasp and hard to be indexed and systematized.

What is usually missing, especially in large organizations, is this natural acceptance of reality’s messiness. And this includes individual creativity messiness. It is as messy as our lack of understanding of how it functions.

In the integral understanding of creativity and innovation, as I propose in ‘The Leadership Spark – The New Integral Technique To Ignite Your Creative, Innovative, And Strategic Leadership’, systemic view is just one of the 4 perspectives.

When Ken Wilber was no more than 23 years old, he theorized the AQAL, and now we have this concept and may operate with it. AQAL stands for ‘all quadrants all levels’. An account or theory is said to be AQAL, and thus integral, if it accounts for or makes reference to all four quadrants and four major levels in Wilber’s quadrants, described here bellow.



The entire AQAL system is a lot more complicated, but for our endeavor it is enough to say that innovation is integral. How come?

Some people view creativity as a single man’s talent, genius or perseverance (this is the Upper Left Quadrant view, only the first pane of the window). Here lies the mess. Others view it as existing only in creative things (innovations), behaviors, brain functioning or some view it as the tools to be creative (which is the Upper Right Quadrant perspective). Many view  creativity as sparking from the exchange of ideas among people, as a cultural product (this is the Lower Left Quadrant) while the rest view creativity as a process and as a system (Lower Right Quadrant).

But creativity is all these views put together. If we can put them all on the table, we can have a complete definition and working process of creativity and innovation in a company.


None of the four quadrants is independent of the others. On the contrary. They are all linked by what Steven Johnson, the author of Where Good Ideas Come From called the ‘possible adjacent’. This ‘possible adjacent’ represents a certain limited space of possibilities arising from what currently ‘is’ in all the four quadrants of an individual. Therefore, you cannot have a total breakthrough from one of the quadrants (say the LR – ‘systems and processes’ one), but your are most probably able just to open another door to another door to another door. There is a limited space for creative possibilities around one individual, predetermined by his current state, current way of behaving, current material resources, collective and culture, and organisational system. This is what we call your individual ‘map on creativity and innovation’, your particular way in which you understand it.

So, what a leader has to do to tap into the large ocean of innovation possibility is to enlarge his view of innovation so that it comprises all the 4 perspectives.

For more on this, ‘The Leadership Spark – The New Integral Technique To Ignite Your Creative, Innovative, And Strategic Leadership’ explains everything in detail.



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George Bragadireanu

George Bragadireanu