Should I do my Work? Or Wait Until Someone Important is Watching?

five cogs of innovation

If you work in IT, you can do lots of interesting and innovative stuff. You could virtualize your data center, or speed your backups up by 50 percent.

But who will notice? Better yet, how many of them will care?

Although the projects may be worthwhile and, indeed, be rewarding for the techies working on them, they fall in to the category of “IT innovation of IT,” according to Prof. Joe Peppard.

“This is not to denigrate this kind of innovation; it is important for CIOs to reduce year-on-year the cost of IT supply,” he wrote in his paper, Avoidng the Traps of IT Innovation (PDF). The problem is that “such innovation typically does not result in innovating the business,” he said.

Director of the Information Systems Research Centre at Cranfield University, Peppard has identified how IT can help spur innovation in the business. This can be product/service, process, or management innovation, or enhancements around the customer experience or the introduction of new business models.

But will IT do that?

A recent Information Week article reported on an annual skills survey carried out by the magazine. Asked which they considered to be the most critical, IT managers, for the fifth year in a row, put aligning business and technology goals at top of their list at 80%. Things like analyzing data and preparing reports came in at 56% and 48% respectively.

But at the bottom of the list was seeking out new business opportunities. Just 24% of managers said that was important — and that was down from 29% in 2008. That does not bode well, according to Peppard:

“Our research reveals that successful organizations proactively ‘manufacture’ the serendipity often associated with generating ideas.”

This can be done by a separate IT unit charged with innovation that follows a systematic innovation process, Peppard said.

But what of those left behind?

But back to on IT innovation of IT. The Register has a more cynical take : Don’t waste your time on work no one can see because they just don’t care. Only do it when powerful people ask, according to the tongue-in-cheek article.

Calling this work method, Continual Visible Productivity (CVP), The Register urges IT workers to plan their work in ways where it can be most seen. This system is so successful it is not only shared with bosses but encouraged by them:

“The joy of CVP is that its cynicism is so pure you can openly share it with your boss – he is under constant attack for the cost of IT which to “the business” seems so rarely to actually produce anything. A staffer who makes him look good is far more valuable than one who knows more C++ syntax, so his fear of you leaving goes up without you doing anything.”

Illustration, Five Cogs of Innovation, courtesy of Jurgen Appelo on Flickr.