Informal Innovation Systems within Formal Organizations (IIS)
Soldiers are not meant to tamper with their vehicles. All modifications are supposed to be approved and only certified mechanics are allowed to actually alter the exterior of a vehicle. Yet when Danish soldiers started being hit by IEDs in Iraq and Afghanistan, they promptly started bolting on armor and modifying their vehicles to provide increased protection, improvising without prior approval. This example and many others like it raise a fundamental question: How does innovation happen within organizations? Traditionally, we think that innovation happens because of technical experts in dedicated R&D units and that organizations know about the innovation that happens within them. We implicitly think of the formal innovation system of the organization. Based on our studies of innovation within Danish Police and Danish Defense, we propose to focus instead on the informal innovation systems within formal organizations: the innovation that occurs at the user-level, ‘in the street’ and ‘on the ground’, as police officers and soldiers develop solution to improve safety and efficiency, actively hiding their solutions from the formal organization and working without a ‘license to innovate’. Informal innovation, we propose, is crucial for organizational functioning, but ‘silenced’ by hierarchical organization and dominant views of what it means to innovate and who should do it. In our research, we aim to examine these propositions and answer three related questions: How does informal innovation play out within formal organizations? How widely occurring is informal innovation? What do informal innovation systems make possible for organizations?
Massachusetts Institute of Technology