Saul Kaplan: Interstitial Innovation Magic

Magic happens in the interstitial space between silos, disciplines, organizations, and sectors. The word interstitial comes from the Latin “interstitium” which was derived from “inter” meaning “between” and “sistere” meaning “to stand” therefore to stand between. Optimum learning, innovation, problem solving, and value creation happens when we stand between.

To fully realize the potential of the 21st century we must get more comfortable and better at standing between. The imperative is to go from interdisciplinary to trans-disciplinary. Only by celebrating the interstitial space between us will we invent new disciplines and system approaches to enable transformation in our important social systems including education, health care, energy, and entrepreneurship.

And yet we spend most of our time in silos. It is comfortable there. We know the language spoken. We know what is expected and our roles. We know the people who inhabit our silos. There are clear rules dictating our behavior within silos and even clearer rules if we dare to dip our toes into the interstitial space outside of well-marked boundaries. Incentives, performance reviews, and job ladders all reinforce insularity. While technology screams permeability, organization infrastructure and operating norms lean against it. Standing in between anything is often considered a career-limiting move.

Most organizations aren’t 21st century ready. Industrial era structures with hierarchical reporting relationships designed around functions will inevitably give way to networked operating models fluidly connecting capabilities both within and outside the organization. Enabling infrastructure and operating norms will celebrate and reinforce interstitial spaces. Standing between disciplines will become the norm rather than the exception. The enabling technology is already here. We don’t need to invent anything new. It isn’t technology that is getting in our way. It is humans and the organizations we live in that are both stubbornly resistant to change and hesitant to fully explore interstitial spaces. Organizations will either transform themselves to capitalize on the value in interstitial spaces or they will be disrupted in the market by others that do. And for those leaders who think they can wait it out. You can’t, the transition has already started and its pace is quickening. Just ask the youngest in your organization. Waiting is not a strategy and will fail.

Saul KaplanIt is easy to see the potential from enabling random collisions of unusual suspects. Just check out any social media platform. Social media is a hotspot for random collisions. You don’t need to hang out in these virtual places long to know they are populated with very unusual suspects. Interstitial spaces are ubiquitous and magic happens every day. We can bring this magic into our organizations, meetings, and gatherings. We just have to resist the normal tendency to hang out with the usual suspects. Most of the conferences and meetings we go to are teeming with usual suspects who love to get together to admire the problem. We sure do love to admire problems. Solution discussions are narrow and tend to shop around old solutions that have been discussed forever. If you want new ideas, approaches, and solutions go to gatherings that you have absolutely no reason to attend other than you might learn something new or meet somebody with a different perspective and experience. Make it a personal goal to attend gatherings where you don’t know the people or subject matter. Or better yet go to gatherings that are designed to bring unusual suspects together and to enable random collisions.

We are only two weeks away from our annual Collaborative Innovation Summit, BIF-6 on September 15-16. The energy at BIF in the weeks leading up to the summit is at dangerous levels. I am like a kid in a candy store and grateful that the summit is sold out again this year. Like-minded innovation junkies immerse themselves among unusual suspects. We design to optimize the interstitial space in between an incredible line-up of innovation storytellers. The event is not about the stories that will be shared from the stage although they will be great. (Stories will be live streamed during the event and videos posted a few weeks later on our site for those interested). The real magic happens in between stories at extended breaks where all participants and those following the conversation in the social media world collide. It isn’t about the storytellers, it is about random collisions in the interstitial spaces that happen every year among the participants and those connected to the conversation. I can’t wait.

The goal is to get better faster. If you want to get better faster hang out in interstitial spaces. Don’t just dip your toes into interstitial spaces but jump in with all the passion you can ignite. Magic happens in the interstitial space between us.


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