Innovation from the lens of Bricolage

Bricolage i.e. French for ‘tinkering’ and a Bricoleur loosely translates into someone who makes things with whatever materials are available. The  term gained widespread popularity through the work of Claude Lévi-Strauss in his book ‘The Savage Mind’. I find that it provides a useful lens to view innovation through.

Most conversations revolve around the idea that for something to be innovative it must necessarily be new. How ever ‘Bricolage’ provides an alternative view of making use of already existent frameworks, structures and protocols to develop and/or improvise new ways of doing things.

Karl Weick in ‘Making Sense of the Organization‘ provides a useful framework to understand Bricolage:

(1) intimate knowledge of resources,
(2) careful observation and listening,
(3) trusting one’s ideas, and,
(4) self-correcting structures, with feedback

Both at a macro as well as micro level Bricolage is based on the premise of engaging actively and in depth with the current problem or opportunity without being worried about the ‘right’ outcome or the lack of the ‘right’ tools.  According to Senyard, Baker & Davidsson, since Bricolage relies on the concept of “resources at hand” firms with this mindset find value in whatever is available to them easily and reasonably. More importantly the idea is not to simply reuse what ever resources are available for the same purpose, but in fact to recombine and repurpose them in a creative manner such as was not originally intended.

Thinking of innovation through the lens of Bricolage allows us to closely engage with and examine the tools, technologies, environments, frameworks and philosophies that are already present and in doing so gain context on how to find new ways of doing things.

Mark Twain seemed to have understood this a while ago: “There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.”



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