When we talk about innovation, we often refer to “big innovation”, innovation applied and designed by experts or by the R&D departments. However, there is another kind of innovation, one that emerges from the bottom and that affects the small daily job duties. This is “micro-innovation”.

The following was originally published in Innovation Excellence

Micro-innovation is innovation undertaken by each of the members of an organization, applied to their immediate work environment, i.e. to the responsibilities of the own worker and the tasks of those other workers which are adjacent to theirs.

Micro-innovation is based on a continuous self-questioning to achieve sustained improvement. Is expected from all members of the organization the pursuit of excellence and, to this end, the questioning of their own work is needed.

Workers must be critical of themselves, but they should also question those they work with daily and from whom the proper performance of their duties depends on. To do this, hierarchies should not be an obstacle.

Micro-innovation acts locally to innovate globally. It is a decentralized, netlike innovation where the combination of located improvements has its direct impact on the overall structure.

The improvements are neither organized nor directed, so that each worker is required to take the initiative. Each member of the company is responsible not only to carry out their own work, but also to improve it. Consequently, the responsibility for the overall improvement of the organization is shared.

Micro-innovation is based on the knowledge found within the company. To innovate technology is not essential, the important thing is to have good ideas. Nobody knows better the peculiarities of an organization than the members who compose it.

Each member of the organization is an expert in their immediate work environment and therefore is the best suited to identify and implement improvements. However, it is necessary to have an overview of the company in order to place each phase and task. This requires that all members of the organization have comprehensive information about the company and its environment.

Micro-innovation can be applied in two fields: processes and design

1. Processes: those recurring situations or tasks that must be performed periodically. For example, processing, manage and delivery of specific information.

2. Design: regarding to both graphic design and the design of spaces. For example, the design of a form related to an activity or the preparation of a hall room whenever there is a meeting.

How does micro-innovation work?

Both in processes as in design, frequently, there are situations in which the repeated execution of a task generates a series of dysfunctions. By “dysfunction” we refer to any process or design that, steadily, has an inadequate functioning (it results in multiple errors, requires excessive investment of time) or produces results contrary to those desired.

Whenever the process or the design must be executed, the same problems occur: no information is found, data is incorrect, not enough time, the product does not conform to customer needs or mistakes that lead to stress, anxiety and conflict.

And yet, once the task is finished, nothing is done to correct the malfunction. Everything is forgotten until the next occasion, in which the same problems reappear. It seems that the company is doomed to a nonsense and endless repetition of these dysfunctions.

The objective of micro-innovation is to identify and correct those dysfunctions to carry out our tasks effectively and efficiently, that is, to achieve the desired effect optimizing the available resources.

The turning point of micro-innovation

In order to break the vicious cycle of dysfunctions it is required a change of perspective, a turning point.

There is a term used in Sociology that can be helpful in understanding this turning point. I refer to the “sociological approach”, i.e. the transformation of consciousness that allows the sociologist to adopt a detached perspective on the daily facts.

Similarly, workers must distance themselves from their daily work and challenge the status quo. They have to move from merely suffering the dysfunctions to be aware of them. Only when we succeed in taking this new approach we are capable of acting on our own work to improve it.

Once we are aware of the dysfunction, the most creative phase of micro-innovation can operate. The phase in which we seek a solution.

If in the first phase it was necessary seeing everything from a detached perspective, to find a solution to the dysfunctions we need to blur the look. The brilliant ideas that pop up from nothing are rare. In micro-innovation workers need to see new environments and experiences to be able to extract ideas that then will be applied to their own work.

For this, all members of the organization must have sufficient time to analyze objectively their work, to enrich themselves and to try new things. If the worker is subject to continuous stress, going from emergency to emergency, we will get (perhaps) an effective company but never an efficient one. Our company will not be able to continually reinvent itself and it will not be adapted to the unstable environment where we live.