Thunderbolt and lightning very very frightening - Innovation and the weather

John W Lewis's picture
Chat Date: 
Thu, Dec 13, 2012

On Thursday November 22, no #innochat was planned because the USA contingent of innocats were celebrating Thanksgiving. Nevertheless, a small group from Europe had a chat about the weather, which is hardly a novel topic. It went well - and, as one of us pointed out: there were “definitely no turkeys in this chat” - so we thought we’d try it again with everyone!

Of course, our real interest is in innovation! So the topic was, more accurately, about the similarities and differences between operating in business environments and in meteorological environments. The impromptu chat involved only three of us, and the topic seemed appropriate because bad weather was prevailing in Europe, especially in the UK, at the time.

It might be also of interest to anyone organising future innochats, that our conversation on Twitter has served as an effective way to gather ideas quickly for this framing post, including the questions.

Many topics came up, some have been identified below, and some of those suggested as questions to address during the chat.

General comparison

There are similarities between the nature of these environment, including their dynamics. Clearly, neither business nor meteorology environments are constant.  The weather is determined by differences in air pressure (temperature and moisture) between different places. Similarly, innovation also thrives in polymorphous environments, with different 'pressures'. No doubt, you will have plenty of thoughts about the nature of those pressures.

Cyclic patterns

In both environments, many of the changes that occur are cyclic, with a variety of periods. For the weather: these include day and night, the seasons, or other patterns.

Business and innovation are also subject to economic cycles.  Different stages of the cycles, in both environments, may be more or less conducive to specific types of activity.  In some weather, we seek shelter; in other weather, we make hay while the sun shines. In nature, animals (and people) exhibit patterns of migration for feeding, breeding and other purposes; maybe innovation is similar.

Maybe there are also equivalent structural patterns with, at some latitudes, streams of ideas flowing around the world, like the trade winds; while, at others latitudes, we are in the doldrums?!

Curiously, actual connections didn’t come up!

Of course, there may be actual dependencies between innovation and the weather, but, for no particular reason, we did not address these directly in our initial chat; we focussed on more indirect analogies.

Many businesses depend strongly on the weather and seasons, because: either they involve animals and crops, such as in agriculture; or they depend on other people’s behaviour patterns, such as in tourism; or they are directly dependent on the weather, such as launching or operating ships and oil rigs, etc..


Another topic, that we did discuss, related to political borders. Weather patterns and innovation (it seems, what do you think?) show little or no respect for national and state borders, even if the same situations might be reported and forecasted quite differently in different places for historical, cultural or political reasons.

This raised other issues about contexts for operation in the business environment. As with the weather, different people react differently to different conditions, and tipping points occur from one behaviour to another.

We even chatted about nomadic behaviour, including the clash in some parts of the world between artificially imposed state boundaries and migratory behaviours. Maybe even the concept of ownership of property is questionable. Plenty of innovation parallels there!


Yet another theme popped up at various times, and it’s a more complicated one: we are affected by the environment, but also we affect the environment.

We change things, we pollute things. Not only do we add things to and remove things from the environment, we also change the structure of the environment. For example, we damage natural barriers by drilling through them, or we erect new barriers.

While the business environment affects innovation, most of us would presumably agree that innovation also affects the business environment! These aspects seemed to extend across a wide range of topics; and we certainly did not explore them in full in our initial chat.


Patterns are one thing, but the stability and predicability of those patterns is another. The atmosphere is highly chaotic, small changes to one part of the system can have a large impact on the entire system. This highly disruptive environment makes day-to-day predictions impossible. We know that, similarly, innovation can highly disruptive and unpredictable.

All for one, and one for all!

Although other minor topics and variations arose during our initial chat, the main topics described above seem to offer plenty of scope for a full innochat.

So, the three of us, decided to offer to moderate one together on this topic, we (“the three Thanksgiving-defying musketeers”!) are:

Below are a set of four questions which you might like to address.


  1. The business environment for innovation can be compared to the weather; it is changeable and unpredictable.

    How is an analogy with the weather useful in understanding the environment in which innovation occurs?

  2. There are business cycles, and there are weather cycles, including days, seasons, etc., perhaps even ice ages.

    As with weather cycles, how does the extent and type of innovation activity depend on the stage in the business cycle?

  3. There are borders between nation states and there are boundaries between industries.

    Innovation, weather and business are global phenomena. What does that imply for the future of the nation state?

  4. There are many dependencies between our activities and both the physical environment and the business environment.

    Bad weather often causes enormous damage. What about bad innovations?



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