ESIP and Innovation

From Earth Science Information Partners (ESIP)

Innovation is a common buzzword across all sectors and while a clear definition remains elusive, the problems we are facing are increasingly complex and need new, arguably innovative, approaches.

Innovator's DNA

In a recent study by Jeffrey H. Dyer, Hal B. Gregersen, and Clayton M. Christensen, they looked for common traits found among people thought to be highly innovative. Their conclusion was that innovators consistently do five things:

  • Questioning allows innovators to break out of the status quo and consider new possibilities.
  • Through observing, innovators detect small behavioral details—in the activities of customers, suppliers, and other companies—that suggest new ways of doing things.
  • In experimenting they relentlessly try on new experiences and explore the world.
  • And through networking with individuals from diverse backgrounds, they gain radically different perspectives.

These four patterns of action together help innovators associate to cultivate new insights. Like DNA everyone inherently has these innovation skills, but no person combines them in the same way. Unlike DNA, the skills can also be practiced, innovators consistently act differently to think differently and by understanding these skills innovation organizationally can be enhanced.

If you ask ESIP members about benefits they get from participating in ESIP activities and meetings it always revolves around their ability to do their own work better. Many mention these components of innovation in their answers (2012 Winter Meeting Survey)- the benefit of idea exchange, networking or learning new things. These habits and thought processes provide a framework of specific actions and metrics that might be helpful in understanding, explaining to others, what it is about ESIP that makes it a productive space to work and how to continually create an innovative space for the Earth science informatics community to work. This discussion starts with some ideas from The Innovator's DNA. It will be filled out by stories that members tell! Some questions that might start some thinking:

  • What specific events in ESIP have helped members bring innovative ideas back from ESIP meetings to their organizations?
  • How have other ESIP members helped to effectively bring those ideas to fruition?
  • Is there some element of ESIP's organization that makes it inherently innovative?


Innovators are constantly observing how things are done. Observation allows for problems and solutions to emerge. Innovators carefully, consistently and intentionally look at the details and then ask questions.


Innovators ask provocative questions - what if? why? why not? They think about opposites and don't panic about picking a solution. Instead, they are able to synthesize the two, creating a superior solution. Finally, the questions provide constraints - what if we were legally required... what if we were prohibited from doing what we do now?


Innovators try out new ideas, failing fast and often. Unlike observation, experiments provide interactive experiences to try out, provoke and see what insights emerge. This could be intellectual exploration, not necessarily physical. In an organizational setting, it is important to foster a culture of exploration and experimentation.

  • ESIP Testbed -


Innovators devote time and energy to finding and testing ideas (observing and experimenting) through a network of diverse contacts with radically different perspectives. Innovators network outside of their own field and attend idea conferences and are constantly making connections to other places not specific to their field.

  • ESIP specifically attracts members from historically different networks
  • ESIP meetings and fora facilitate sharing of ideas


Associating, or the ability to successfully connect seemingly unrelated questions, problems, or ideas from different fields, is central to the innovator’s DNA. Associating is only possible because of the exposure to a diverse array of people and ideas through the first four skills.

Types of Innovation

Clayton Christensen defines several types of innovation in his book "The Innovator's Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail". These definitions might help us focus and understand our conversations:

  1. Sustaining Innovation is aimed at improving existing products for existing customers. It is driven by those customer's needs, which we understand through working with them. This is by far the most common type of innovation, particularly in mature organizations.
  2. Disruptive Innovation is aimed at creating products for people and groups that are potential future, not current, customers of an organization. This type of innovation is difficult to justify and implement because organizations are driven by current customer needs. Disruptive innovation can be facilitated by disruptive technologies, but this is not necessarily a requirement.

Sources of Innovation

Davenport and Prusak [1998] (and others) locate the sources for new knowledge--for innovation-- in an organization. They (ibid) note that organizations can buy innovation (acquiring a company); they can rent innovation (through university partnerships, etc.); they can fund innovation (through dedicated R&D); or they can inspire innovation (through knowledge fusion--bringing diverse experts into the same conversation). Newer ideas on innovation also include listening to feedback from users and idea farming.

The sweet spot for the ESIP Federation is likely to be knowledge fusion. The Federation is an earth science innovation reactor... we bring together all the different types of expertise and different levels of data generation and use into a single conversation.

The Federation, as a collective entity, can be the innovator - finding new and innovative solutions to common problems identified by its members. The Federation can also facilitate innovation among its members, by making it possible for them to be exposed to people and ideas that they might not be otherwise. Members can observe, ask questions, make the associations, etc. and then bring innovation to their organizations.

Innovators Among Us Schedule

  • 1 - TED
  • 2- Ignite
  • 3- Ignite
  • 4- Ignite

4 min break -

  • 5- TED
  • 6 -Ignite
  • 7 -TED

4 min break -

  • 8- TED
  • 9- Ignite
  • 10-TED

4 min break -

  • 11-TED
  • 12 Ignite
  • 13 TED


Association at lunch!