Su ppl em en t to S SI R fu n d ed by t h e r o ckefel l er f o u n dati o n

Embracing the Paradoxes
of Innovation
By Zia Khan and Kippy Joseph


s the previous articles have made
clear, innovation is essential to
developing the breakthrough
ideas and practicable solutions
that contribute to social progress. The process of innovation is very difficult, however: full of challenges and characterized by paradoxes. It is understandable,
therefore, that people look for checklists,
normatives, and practices they can adopt
and follow—or shortcuts and workarounds
that will enable them to avoid getting involved with innovation altogether. Experienced leaders, however, know that innovation is necessary to further social progress,
and successful innovators know that the
challenges and paradoxes inherent in the
endeavor cannot be avoided.
One way to smooth the path of innovation is to be alert to the most common challenges that arise. Interestingly, some of the
most onerous barriers to innovation—especially in a global, cross-organizational context—have less to do with the skills of the actors involved than with distinct paradoxes
that are embedded in the process. As with
any paradox, these contain conundrums
and sometimes fly in the face of conventional wisdom. At the Rockefeller Foundation,
we have identified three paradoxes in our
work with innovators around the world.
1. How to pursue innovation without fall-

ing prey to “cultification.”

2. How to collaborate without being

derailed by compromise.

3. How to scale up breakthrough inven-

tions within the established conventions of organizations.

These paradoxes can be managed, but
they are stubborn, and they can lead to a
state of innovation dissonance—a palpable
Zia Khan is vice president for strategy and evaluation at
the Rockefeller Foundation. Previously, he advised clients
on strategy and innovation while leading the San Francisco
office of Katzenbach Partners,...

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