“Innovation— any new idea—by definition will not be accepted at first. It takes repeated attempts, endless demonstrations, monotonous rehearsals before innovation can be accepted and internalized by an organization. This requires courageous patience.”— Warren Bennis
This is Part-2 of the 2 part series on how to rapidly innovate. You can read Part-1 here.
A quick summary of Part-1:
1. Imagination And Environment Are The Preview for Innovation
2. Innovation Is Uniqueness and Expressing your genius
3. Endless Curiosity opens the gates Of Innovation
4. Have More Ideas and Retakes To Innovate Better
5. What You Observe And Do Is What You Innovate
Let us move on to Part-2 now!
6. You Can Only Innovate At The Level Of Tools and Mechanisms That You have In Place
“If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.” – Abraham Maslow
The early microscopes were invented by lens makers and the fascinating work is described in the masterpiece The Microbe Hunters by Paul de Kruif.
“Two hundred and fifty years ago an obscure man named Leeuwenhoek looked for the first time into a mysterious new world peopled with a thousand different kinds of tiny beings, some ferocious and deadly, others friendly and useful, many of them more important to mankind than any continent or archipelago. ” –The Microbe Hunters by Paul de Kruif
Anton Von Leuwenhoek was looking at pond water through his crude compound microscope when he saw small organisms doing their little motion and dance.
“He squints through his lens. He mutters guttural words under his breath. . .Then suddenly the excited voice of Leeuwenhoek! Come here! Hurry! There are little animals in this rain water. . . They swim! They play around! They are a thousand times smaller than any creatures we can see with our eyes alone. . . Look! See what I have discovered!” —The Microbe Hunters by Paul de Kruif
Over the course of the next few decades, many microscopic organisms and life was described and paved the eventual way to microbiology and germ theory as we know it.
However, the early microbe hunters completely missed seeing very tiny organisms such as viruses because their microscopes just would not resolve them and they were literally invisible to the compound microscope. Only much later after the discovery of electron microscopes could those discoveries be made.
“If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old”― Peter F. Drucker
The point is that innovation depends on the tools and systems that you have in place.
Have you ever wondered why some companies are constantly out innovating their competition?
These companies make sure that they have the best tools available and also set up structures that allow rapid innovation and iteration.
“You cannot discover new oceans unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.” -Andre Gide
Ask yourself if the tools that you are using are competitive in the current market.
Are your tools specific enough and sensitive enough to detect and solve your problem? You may need to invest more in your business if your tools have lost the edge.
Before investing however, make sure to do a thorough market survey and analysis if the tools are indeed required.
7. Innovators Understand The Value Of Absurd Ideas And Tinkering With The Status Quo
“Listen to anyone with an original idea, no matter how absurd it may sound at first. If you put fences around people, you get sheep. Give people the room they need.” — William McKnight
Does the world need a better mouse trap? There may have been many thousands of innovations and an absurd number of patents in the pursuit of the better mouse trap, but the appeal of building something no one has ever done before is far too great.
Take the mp3 player market for example. Did the world need a better mp3 player? No one thought so when Steve Jobs came up with his idea for his player.
Most people said that the world did not need another mp3 player.
The question of course literally answers itself but what Steve did was to set up an ecosystem and create ways for people to enjoy their music by carrying their entire collections or sub sets of them in their pocket or purse.
It was a seemingly absurd idea in a saturated market but it had enough disruptive innovation punch that it blew the competition out of the water and redefined an industry.
What jobs did was create a piece of art around the question “why” and “how” and “where” people listen to their music.
“Life is trying things to see if they work.”— Ray Bradbury
Innovators tinker with the status quo to see if things can be changed and as a result history is often rewritten.
“I began by tinkering around with some old tunes I knew. Then, just to try something different, I set to putting some music to the rhythm that I used in jerking ice-cream sodas at the Poodle Dog. I fooled around with the tune more and more until at last, lo andbehold, I had completed my first piece of finished music. ” — Duke Ellington
Do you have any absurd ideas that you are tinkering with or do you routinely give up on those ideas?
Allow yourself and your team with the creative liberty to come up with something truly innovative even if it seems insane at the outset.
Mix and match cross-disciplinary ideas to create blends that are very different. Often innovation involves bringing together seemingly impossible and different ideas together.
8. Innovation Is A Lonely And Insane Space to Be: Be Prepared To Be Laughed At
“The vast majority of human beings dislike and even actually dread all notions with which they are not familiar… Hence it comes about that at their first appearance innovators have generally been persecuted, and always derided as fools and madmen.”― Aldous Huxley
When you are in the process of rapid innovation, your prototypes may be laughed at and even called worthless.
Friends, relatives and critics will chip in to say how your idea is insane and not worth the light of day. If all inventors take in and allow the sensibilities and opinions of all people, there will be no innovation.
Customer feedback is very important and vital but often customers are as confused as you are. They are in no better position to define what is it that they need.
It is upon the innovator to see the problems that they experience and bring out products that alleviate them whether people see a need for it or not.
“One of my early mentors, poet David Wagoner, who divides the creative process into three phases – madman, poet and critic – once told me that you need to find your own magic to stay in the world of creative play.” — Sonia Gernes
In 1889, when he was 18, Orville Wright started a self-made printing press business that his brother Wilbur joined soon thereafter. The press was highly successful and the brothers decided to join in the bicycle business when bicycles became popular.
They built a bicycle shop across the street from the press and were soon building custom bicycles.
The Wright brothers were very interested in aviation and flight and with two successful businesses under their belt, decided to pursue their interest. They spent a good amount of time learning and studying the principles and theories of flight.
They built a custom wind tunnel with a shop fan and a six foot wood box to test out their miniature glider designs for flight lift and took meticulous measurements and notes.
They were inspired by nature and birds and attempted to incorporate those ideas in their designs. The brothers also built and experimented with countless kites and motor less gliders in the few years before their historic flight.
There were groups that were attempting flight that were better funded and had a lot more experience. The scientific literature at the time was also suggesting that manned flight was a scientific impossibility.
Professor Simon Newcomb, a highly reputed scientist published works in 1903 that suggested the impossibility of flight of a human built object that was magnitudes heavier than air without a counter force of nature.
In 1903, at Kitty Hawk, the brothers tested their 40-foot wingspan “Flyer 1” that remained in flight for 12 seconds and flew 120 feet.
Even after they demonstrated flight, it took the world several years to warm up to the reality of the idea of flight. The Wright brothers were widely mocked by the press and educated people everywhere who claimed to know better.
The Paris edition of the Herald Tribune even published an article in 1906 titled “Fliers or Liars.”
The article read:
“The Wrights have flown or they have not flown. They possess a machine or they do not possess one. They are in fact either fliers or liars.”
However in those five years, the wright brothers sufficiently demonstrated by flying scores of times and also taking passengers with them and flying for longer times and flying circles and even figures of eights.
In 1908, the Wrights were finally vindicated when the world began to recognize that flight had not only been accomplished but was very possible.
“If we worked on the assumption that what is accepted as true really is true, then there would be little hope for advance”-Orville Wright
Innovators will get ignored and laughed at and then they will experience the popular opinion backlash.
“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win” -Mahatma Gandhi
Prepare yourself to be laughed at when you unleash your new innovation.
Adjust your mental and emotional sails to navigate the rough waters of resistance and indifference.
The question to ask yourself always is: Is your innovation adding great value to the lives of people and making their lives better? If it is, forget the naysayers.
9. What Does Your Team Look Like And How Do You Interact?
“My model for business is the Beatles. They were four guys who kept each other’s kind of negative tendencies in check. They balanced each other, and the total was greater than the sum of the parts. That’s how I see business: Great things in business are never done by one person. They’re done by a team of people.” -Steve Jobs
The truth is that highly innovative companies like IDEO, Apple and PIXAR and Google have a highly multi-disciplinary team with people from different backgrounds.
In the book Creativity, Inc, Ed Catmull, the President of PIXAR animation and Amy Wallace tell the story of the long table that they would have their meetings in at PIXAR in a conference room they call West one.
The table was beautiful and thirty of them met there frequently facing off in two long lines.
The long table was also hierarchical due to the need of the producer and director of the movie to be in the center along with John Lasseter, the creative officer and Ed Catmull and a small group of experienced writers and producers.
The rest of the team was pushed to the corners facilitating little interaction and flow of ideas between members at the ends.
Place cards were also made like a formal dinner engagement.
Only when Catmull and Lasseter had a smaller meeting around a square table did they realize how fluid and easy it was to meet and float ideas around that they were missing in their long table format and custom.
Even after the long table was removed and replaced with a more intimate square table making interaction easier, someone had still placed the place cards on the new table.
Andrew Stanton, one of the directors entered the meeting room and moved the cards around randomly and declared that they did not need the cards anymome making everyone in the room gasp.
Thus the long table and place cards were finally replaced with a system that allowed better interaction and flow of ideas.
“The only way to discover the limits of the possible is to go beyond them into the impossible.”- A. Clarke
Do you have highly interactive teams or teams that are isolated and expected to innovate.
Do you have fresh air and ideas that move easily and without clogging up in the hallways and in the structures of your business?
Do you implement those ideas?
Do you have customs that are impeding innovation that you need to replace with better ones?
10. Are You Prepared For Innovation And Change?
“Where observation is concerned, chance favors the prepared mind.” – Louis Pasteur
“Discoveries are often made by not following instructions, by going off the main road, by trying the untried.”— Frank Tyger
The truth about innovation is that many innovations are accidental discoveries that have been used in different contexts than what they were initially meant for.
Penicillin was discovered by Sir Alexander Fleming in 1928 when he noticed moldy bacterial culture plates after returning from his vacation.
Instead of tossing them out, Fleming noticed that the bacterial culture was getting inhibited by a microorganism that was a contaminant in the plate.
When isolated, the contaminant was identified as Penicillin, a fungus with anti-bacterial properties. The result was that accidental discovery of antibiotics that eventually ended up saving millions of lives all over the world.
Frequently, we dismiss ideas and results that do not fit the expected idea of what we are looking for.
In 1942 Dr. Harry Coover was looking to build clear plastic gun sights for allied soldiers in World War II. One of his innovations using the material cyanoacrylate was not useful as a sight but was a highly quick and effective adhesive and stuck to everything at contact.
Coover abandoned the idea till many years later in 1951 when he rediscovered it along with Fred Joyner when working at Kodak Eastman and his team was attempting to build heat resistant polymers for jet canopies.
The discovery was marketed initially as Eastman#910 and subsequently renamed as superglue.
“Creativity is inventing, experimenting, growing, taking risks, breaking rules, making mistakes, and having fun.”— Mary Lou Cook
Do not dismiss all the accidental discoveries as useless since they may be useful in a different context.
Catalog and save all your ideas and innovations since they may be the next great discovery in a different application or use.
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?