Change v. The Managers

The theme of “innovation” has been recurring in this and another course I’m taking at the moment and I think it’s interesting to continue to compare this KT rhetoric with its corporate parallels. In the text from outside of the course we read a recent article from GE’s Jeffrey Immelt explaining business’ need to push toward “reverse innovation”. In other words, to give emerging markets the freedom and power to produce more inexpensive products relevant to local contexts (sound familiar?). In the dog-eat-dog business world this seemingly polite proposal is of course however, a profit-making strategy for maintaining the interdependency of these developing nations and preempting the creation of their own competing companies.  The challenge businesses are facing in executing this mandate is much like our own in pushing for new models and innovation in the field of public health: “changing the mind-set of managers who’ve spent their careers excelling at the (old model)” (Immelt et al, 2009).


This is an interesting point that is implicit in much that we’ve been reading but it raises for me another issue with these models for innovation that is, the structure of large organizations themselves and the basic fact that those in positions of power are those with more experience in the field and thus often guilty of this tendency to resist change because it counters what’s been done before. In my recent field experience with a large international public health organization in Nicaragua, I found this to be entirely the case. At the end of my term my supervisor in so many words confirmed this by confiding that he had recently told his son not to aspire to starting his career with a job in his organization and would tell me the same thing, because it was not the place for young people, that young people should get experience in environments where innovation is applauded and politics don’t stifle their every move. If deep, lasting change is to promulgate though, I think that the biggest challenge truly is convincing managers to change. We the up and comers of public health are easy to convince that change is the way of the future and we want a job in the future, so we’re hopping on board with innovation! That is, until the next innovation comes along and we are comfortably sitting in our offices practicing our innovation. Peschl’s plea for us to remain open and aware and attentive and enable processes rather than forcing them (2008) is appropriate and though abstract I see it’s integration into our practice as the key to sustaining these processes.

(Click on the photo for a quick glimpse into the art of profiting off of resistance to change, KT consulting firm anyone?)


Immelt, J. et al. (2009, October). How GE is Disrupting Itself. Harvard Business Review. 

Peschl, M.F., et al. (2008). Emergent Innovation and Sustainable Knowledge Co-Creation. A Socio-Epistemological Approach to “Innovation from within”. The Open Knowledge Society: A Computer Science and Information Systems Manifesto. Springer, New York.


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