|Just as the Lotus grows
up from the darkness of the mud
to the surface of the water,
opening its blossom only after it has raised itself beyond the surface,
and remains unsullied from both earth and water, which nourished it
in the same way the mind,
born in the human body,
unfolds its true qualities ("petals")
after it has raised itself beyond the turbid floods of passion and ignorance,
and transforms the dark powers of the depths
into the radiantly pure nectar of Enlightenment-consciousness.
GOVINDA, The Three Pillars of Zen
The evolution of "lotus innovation" thinking begins with the value chain used at the 1987 Roundtable, "Managing the Knowledge Asset into the 21st Century." In this technology transfer continuum, the focus was on how best to bring knowledge and technology into the corporation from university and research laboratories. Even with this diagram, tradition value-chain theories were challenged. The nature of the process meant fuzzy boundaries between the functions as notions of what, how, and when to transfer technology were questioned. The graphic also depicts a dual communication (i.e., not unidirectional) process in which industry has as much to offer academe as the reverse. It also represents the thinking that ideas canand indeed mustoriginate from everywhere in the corporation. And finally, one has not innovated until the market demands more of the technology developed.
An examination of the technology transfer processes of effective Japanese firms made visible the value-added positioning of customers at the front end of the value chain, as illustrated by NEC's value links. Quality methodologies positioned customersappropriately so at the heart of the innovation process, in which all functions determine activities based on value added to the customer.
It was only one step, then, to create a Venn diagram to illustrate the integration of the value-system functions into what constitutes the first tier of the "innovation lotus flower" outlined in Global Innovation Strategy: Creating Value-Added Alliances. This still represents only the microeconomic, intra-organization interactions needed for cross-functional teaming and enterprise-wide alignment. Although the work of the functions themselves will continue to remain an integral functioning of an organization, the real value-added comes from the cross-boundary integration that occurs in the name of progress.
To focus solely internally is naive. Time-to-market efficiencies can come only from taking advantage of external expertise. The second tier of the lotus innovation flower is formed with those relationships that must network outside expertise with internal sources who are at the point of need or vice versa. In this regard, the mesoeconomic level (i.e. suppliers, partners, education, government, distributors, and other stakeholders) becomes a part of the living human and technical network of the organization. In some respects, competitors in and across industries become allies, and in some respects former allies become competitors. The knowledge base now expands to include all connections as potential sources of knowledge for added value.
In a transnational economy, the macroeconomic, networked connections must be managed simultaneously. All the economies of the world are potential conduits to the symbiotic partnering essential for company success. Organizations must assess the "insurmountable opportunities" afforded a global, borderless economy. In this regard, the third tier of the innovation flowerwhen viewed holisticallyrepresents the optimal international infrastructure for the flow of knowledge. In some respects, critical questions must be raised for an organization seeking to position itself internationally: How will the workforce change to meet the fluctuating demographics? How can the company meet the rapidly evolving complex demands of a customer base expanding internationally? How can core company messages be delivered around the globe with timely cross-organizational processes? At the heart of all interactions is the concept of "innovating our future... together."
The resulting lotus innovation flower with its three tiers (i.e. microeconomic, mesoeconomic, and macroeconomic) provides a coherent planning framework in which an organization can consider its strategic vision. It incorporates the complex array of interactions necessary within the firm, outside the firm, and around the globe. As organizations continue to transcend boundaries of every dimension and the technology affords us communications opportunities previously unimaginable, the differences between us as companies, sectors, industries and nations will disappear.