How Do We Know If Practices are Actually Generative?

by cv harquail on December 3, 2014

Cause and effect. Intent and impact.

There’s a vast gulf of questionable causality captured by those ‘and’s.

How do we know if generative practices have generative impact?

pug cookies

It didn’t surprise me when this question came up at the HBS Digital Initiative seminar, since it’s been haunting me for some time.

The question haunts me because– if I can’t show that certain kinds of practices create opportunities  that other businesses take advantage of, I can’t rightly call those practices ‘generative’.

What are ‘generative’ practices? 

The practices have to make things happen that are new, not premeditated, not controlled by the giving organization, and not specifically predictable. Otherwise, they are productive practices (that make predictable things happen) but not generative practices (that create a much more open opportunity for new things to emerge).

My biggest assumption is that when a business makes resources easily available to other businesses, those business (or enough of them) will ultimately take up these resources and use them to good effect.

But do I know this is true?  Especially, how can I tell whether one company’s practice has had a generative impact when I can only look at what’s externally visible?

5 Ways to Assess Generative Impact

Here are five ways that I’m currently assessing generative impact, with the most concrete tactics first.   [click to continue…]


I got lots of feedback from the folks who participated in the HBS Digital Initiative seminar where I presented some big picture ideas about generative practices.  

As promised, I’m summarizing what they shared with me on the index cards we used to gather up ideas.

While I was so. glad. that I asked for their comments, I did make one mistake:

I didn’t ask for their permission to share their names along with their questions. I won’t be able, therefor, to give specific people credit for their contributions (although, anyone who wants to can claim and/or extend an idea in the comments section below!).

snug le pup

I added some links so that you can check out things related to each comment, while I’m busy forming actual answers.

Participants Were Excited About Generativity And…:

  • Taking ideas about ‘positive organizational scholarship’ beyond the level of individual behaviors and outcomes, and beyond the interpersonal relationships, to consider how an organization might be positive as a member of its own community/network
  • The opportunity for an organization to be a leader in being generous, and in changing the expectations for how organizations should behave and succeed.
  • Open APIs — “I’m totally with you on the role that these play in triggering innovation, and also on how they are example of generative practice.”

[click to continue…]


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