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Hungry for innovation? Try snacking on adequacy first.

I’m not sure how much things have changed in soil science over the past few decades, but Justus von Liebig’s Law of Minimum has kept my imagination captive from the moment a wise agronomist first shared it with me.

Liebig’s Law of Minimum states:

“…the yield of a crop is proportional to the amount of the most limiting nutrient; whichever nutrient it may be.“

Put simply, if a crop’s most basic nutrient needs aren’t met, piling on other nutrients won’t help growth or productivity. The simplest Law of Minimum model shows a wooden barrel with uneven staves, unable to fill beyond the height of the shortest stave.

Liebigs Barrel
Following the barrel model, each of the staves represents different nutrients or ingredients– think magnesium, potassium, zinc. Whichever unmet nutrient requirement a crop has is represented by the shortest stave allowing all the potential growth to escape.

Productivity, in the form of growth or yield cannot increase beyond that limiting factor. Seems logical, right?

Liebig’s law applied to organisations

Instead of crop productivity, let’s talk about the ability of an organisation to change, adapt or improve on an existing process. In short; an organisation’s capacity to innovate.

Working in the strategic communication and engagement space, we see it all the time. In the drive to deliver on a client’s desire to be seen as innovative, it can be challenging to sell simply getting the basics right.

When a project brief articulates the desire for an innovative approach, for a bright spark that will go viral, or win awards, the implicit request is for options that are new, vibrant and dare I say it, sexy.

The reality is that some form of Law of Minimum applies to innovation, and the basic nutrient staves in the innovation barrel might not be very sexy. In my experience, those basic ingredients include things like human resources, business planning, stakeholder mapping, a good database and solid project management.

I hear you yawning – stop it.

For some organisations, innovation might mean simply getting the basic ingredients right. And that’s okay.

I submit that in order to be innovative, we need to first embrace a solid foundation of adequacy. Let’s challenge ourselves to be honest with our clients about how the Law of Minimum may apply to their world and then take them beyond snacking on adequacy to feast on innovation.

You can find out more about what it takes to build an innovative organisation by visiting South Australia’s Flinders University ‘New Venture Institute’ (it’s a personal favourite), and you’ll find some solid advice on www.business.gov.au about what it takes to create an innovative business (plot spoiler – it involves spreadsheets and databases.)

About Belinda Macleod-Smith

An eternally curious solution finder, Belinda's extensive communication and marketing background has been forged in diverse sectors. A passion for public participation and citizen centred decision making has seen her deliver outstanding client outcomes in agriculture, health, water, public transport and local government.

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