“There is only one thing stronger than all the armies of the world: and that is an idea whose time has come.” – Victor Hugo
Stories of innovation are highly inspiring to all of us.
When an individual or an organization steps out of their current mold and launches something highly innovative, many things may come to your mind.
Your first obvious reaction may be a sense of awe and disbelief.
You may become highly motivated and ask how you can incorporate innovative thinking and action in your life and that of your team.
You may wonder how people sustain innovative thinking patterns and how they translate them into teams and eventually create something that improves lives?
Here are some ideas on the art of innovation:
1. Imagination And Environment Are The Preview For Innovation
“What is now proved was once only imagined.” – William Blake
A great movie preview sets the tone for your expectations and makes you very excited to watch the movie, and similarly imagination is the preview for innovation.
Highly innovative work places and people understand this concept implicitly and foster an environment of imagination and creativity.
The innovation firm IDEO has a VW Westfalias camper that has been converted into a meeting space at IDEO’s Palo Alto headquarters that serves as a place for people to have lunch and exchange ideas.
Decades before everyone in IDEO had offices and then they moved to open seated cubicles that they could redecorate themselves. Now everyone at IDEO sits in project teams and there are no enclosed offices.
Cross-collaboration is highly encouraged in these open office and team layouts.
PIXAR has huge cutouts of their movie figures as you enter their office that takes you into the imaginative world of animation.
According to an article by SFgate, creativity abounds in the highly innovative PIXAR workplaces.
“Among the more creative additions on the campus: One animator built a bookcase with a secret panel – which opens up into a speakeasy-style sitting area with a card table, bar and security monitor. Other employees work in modified Tuff Sheds, tricked out to look like little houses with front porches and chandeliers.”- Creativity thrives in Pixar’s animated workplace, SFgate
Innovation is encouraged by a pool table, an atrium with free cereal that encourages employees to sit down and bounce ideas off one another and employee made art that celebrates the latest movie that adorn the walls.
In other words, innovation means getting new ideas together in a fun environment that you can share with others.
Innovation needs to be cultivated and sustained by structures that allow imagination and worthy ideas to bloom and take hold in the mind.
However, the innovation in companies like PIXAR and IDEO is supported from the top down. Open brain storming and creative spaces are aspects of innovation that need to be encouraged by the leadership.
It is not possible to demand innovation while stifling all the good ideas that people have and groups generate.
“If you can dream it, you can do it.” – Walt Disney
Are you allowing your imagination to come up with ideas to innovate and solve problems?
Does your individual and your work environment sustain innovation?
“The world is but a canvas to the imagination.” — Henry David Thoreau
2. Innovation Is Uniqueness And Expressing Your Genius
“There is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost.” — Martha Graham
You must remember that your experience of the world is unique. Your lens is a perspective that the world can never replicate in another person.
Ask yourself what things bother you, and generate a bug list. Now how can you make those things better or innovate to make those better through your unique perspective?
For example, I am always bothered by dry erase markers that stop writing due to gravity and the flow of ink as I write.
How can I innovate something to make the marker experience more fluid. Now there may have been some inventions around that problem but you see the idea.
The challenge as an individual is for you to be open to your own uniqueness and believe that you can be an innovator too.
The challenge for organizations is to brainstorm openly without crushing ideas and putting down people by the serious management. Allow ideas and throw as many as you can on the wall as IDEO does and allow everyone a chance.
“We will discover the nature of our particular genius when we stop trying to conform to our own and other’s people’s models, learn to be ourselves and allow our natural channel to open.” — Shakti Gawain
Your ideas really MATTER! You have a unique perspective. Express it and make your team richer by your ideas.
Create a BUG list or a list of things that annoy you and that you would like to innovate upon and then be open to ideas and ways to implement them.
Allow for the open and unbiased flow and interaction of ideas and brainstorm openly with the intention of innovation and improvement and not favoritism.
3. Endless Curiosity Opens The Gates Of Innovation
“Legendary innovators like Franklin, Snow, and Darwin all possess some common intellectual qualities—a certain quickness of mind, unbounded curiosity—but they also share one other defining attribute. They have a lot of hobbies.”― Steven Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation
It is not out of chance or luck that certain types of attitudes are more prone to innovation than others.
Continuous and meaningful innovation requires a curious mind that is open to questions and asks them repeatedly.
Unfortunately, many of us have been conditioned out of asking a lot of questions. Have you been made to believe that asking many questions makes you look like you do not know enough?
Perhaps you are afraid of looking weak or vulnerable in a work setting and skip by important information because you do not ask questions.
It is vital for individuals and organizations to promote a true sense and culture of curiosity where ideas dance around the minds of innovators and they are fearless to express them.
Another great way to innovate or to build upon something is to have many different experiences and hobbies as Johnson points out.
One of my hobbies is to read and travel as much as I can to understand the different perspectives of places, and writers both fictional and non-fictional.
Take Charles Darwin for example. As he was growing up, Darwin had a great interest for hiking and reading.
Darwin helped his brother as an assistant in his backyard chemistry lab where he learnt the scientific method.
Darwin took up animal stuffing that he learnt from South African John Edmonton who was a taxidermist. Darwin had many great conversations about tropical rain forests with John and also frequented natural history museums.
He learnt the art of observation and taking meticulous notes under the wing of Mr. William Macgillivray of the Natural History Museum in Edinburgh.
Darwin also went on long walks and had discussions with the Zoology professor Robert Grant where he developed his interest in marine biology.
Darwin also took to insect and beetle collection as a hobby and spent good time in the countryside collecting and classifying insects. Darwin also collected minerals and pursued bird watching.
“Around here, however, we don’t look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we’re curious… and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” — Walt Disney
Understand and believe that your curiosity and questions can help innovate and make things better.
Are you asking a lot of relevant questions?
Do you have varied hobbies that can widen your perspectives?
Embrace the curious learner’s mindset and create digital or paper notebooks to collect all your ideas and experiences to implement them in the future.
You can also use boxes to collect ideas and clippings for each project as the famous choreographer Twyla Tharp does for all her projects.
4. Have More Ideas And Retakes To Innovate Better
“The way to get good ideas is to get lots of ideas and throw the bad ones away.” – Linus Pauling
“It is better to have enough ideas for some of them to be wrong, than to be always right by having no ideas at all.” — Edward de Bono
Coming up with highly innovative ideas means allowing yourself and your team to be wrong many times before you come up with that great idea. There is great strength and assurance in numbers.
James Dyson, the inventor of the famous cyclone vacuum cleaner is famously known to have built more than 5127 prototypes before he came up with the one that was successful.
In an interview to entrepreneur magazine, Dyson says:
“We have to embrace failure and almost get a kick out of it. Not in a perverse way, but in a problem-solving way. Life is a mountain of solvable problems and I enjoy that.”
Dyson’s approach to innovation and multiple iterations is unconventional and brilliant and he goes on to say:
“What I often do is just think of a completely obtuse thing to do, almost the wrong thing to do. That often works because you start a different approach, something no one has tried. You get a different perspective and view of (the problem).”
Build a quick prototype of your invention using rough materials like tape and cardboard and create a cart with odds and ends like innovation company IDEO encourages.
Rapidly make iterations of the initial prototype by testing it out in the field.
Think of a completely opposite and absurd method to solve the problem and incorporate it into your multiple iterations to see how it tests out in the field.
Remember that rapid initial prototyping and quickly testing it out and taking meaningful action on the feedback is important for innovation.
“I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones.”-John Cage
5. What You Observe And Do Is What You Innovate
“Whether or not you can observe a thing depends upon the theory you use. It is the theory which decides what can be observed.” – Albert Einstein
One of the most important aspects of innovation is a very keen sense and idea of the problem and seeing what is going right or not so right all around you.
Many of us do not observe with a keen sense to the details because in this over stimulated world, we have had our share of sensory input.
Taking a step behind, what you observe will depend on your intention and your theory as Einstein so elegantly puts it.
This is very true and highly corroborated in science as potentially changing the outcome of an experiment by inducing bias known as the observer effect.
In addition, we see the same world with different filters and perceptions and beliefs that we all hold.
IDEO has recognized the importance of theory and perception to innovation and it is one of the important aspects of the human centric design and innovation.
When the observer looks at the problem through a different set of eyes including the eyes of the user or the observed, she looks at the problem from a different innovative lens.
IDEO sends people in the field to observe and participate to supercharge their innovation process.
In one of their projects, they sent one of the team members to experience the emergency room as a patient and film it from that perspective to innovate and improve upon the hospital experience.
“Observe what is with undivided awareness.”— Bruce Lee
Sometimes we spin our wheels and hope that somehow things will just work out.
The best approach is a disruptive innovation that iterates fast enough to keep pace with the potential lack of results and changes in direction.
Perhaps for that very reason, small and lightweight startups can sometimes out innovate larger and more established places because of their willingness and commitment to disruptive innovation.
“If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got.” -Albert Einstein
How observant are you to your immediate environment?
Look at the problem with the different lenses of perception or personas as IDEO encourages. You can look at the problem through the eyes of the experimenter or the cross-collaborator or the storyteller.
Change your profession and look at the problem through the eyes of someone else like a building and taking apart perspective of an engineer or a collaborative perspective of a people connector.
You can read Part-2 here!
Now over to you, my innovative readers!
How do you sustain innovation and generate innovative ideas in your own life?
Which of the above ideas is your favorite and why?