The Three Myths of Innovation
Frameworks, mindsets and tools we can use to innovate regularly
The word "innovation" is overused in our daily communication to the degree that it has lost its heft and significance. We are constantly asked by our leaders to innovate as if it were a mere task like making a sandwich or watering plants.
Yet, at the same time, we are surrounded by mediocre products, designs, movies, and music. Innovation seems to happen rarely. Innovation feels like a fleeting phenomenon that requires an extraordinary set of conditions to collude. As a result, we have come up with certain myths to explain away innovation as something that happens by chance, something that is accidental or requires intervention by a superhuman like Jobs or Musk, or Spielberg.
However, these are just convenient excuses to distance ourselves from owning the outcomes. The truth is that every individual or team has the ability to innovate, to solve problems in a creative manner. But first, we need to deconstruct the three myths of innovation.
Myth #1: You need a mad scientist
The lure of the mad scientist who emerges from their laboratory with a fully formed path-breaking idea that changes the world is quite appealing. It is romantic to credit a single individual as the source of any innovation. However, a closer look invariably reveals quite the opposite - there is usually a team of talented, diverse, and motivated individuals who contribute in their unique ways to drive an innovative outcome. If you have ever sat through the end credits of a Hollywood movie, you will notice the enormous number of people, teams, functions, and skills required to make a 2-hour film - even a Spielberg film. I recommend reading "The Ten Faces of Innovation" by Tom Kelley for ideas and examples of a team-based approach toward innovation. More on the book in the "Around the web" section below.
Myth #2: It happens in a flash
We are familiar with the "Eureka" moment - we have all been made to visualize an old Greek man sitting naked in the bathtub exclaiming "Eureka" upon discovering the principle of buoyancy. Similarly, we know about the falling apple that prompted Newton to discover the law of gravity. While these discoveries seem to happen in a flash, it is useful to note the effort and years that went into developing their body of knowledge and intuition leading up to that moment. Before Steve Jobs's iconic presentation launching the iPhone in 2007, the device had been in development behind closed doors for two and a half years. Before launching their first single "Love Me Do", the Beatles had refined their craft by performing hundreds of times in front of small crowds in nightclubs.
Myth #3: It happens by accident
We don't seem to have a recipe for innovation. If we did, then everybody would already be doing it. It is logical to conclude that innovation happens by accident or by chance. However, there are examples of companies or individuals who seem to have cracked the code and innovated on a regular basis.
Why do you think the same five guys make it to the final table of the World Series of Poker EVERY YEAR? What, are they the luckiest guys in Las Vegas? It's a skill game Jo.
It is true that there are several factors that determine success, and many of them are beyond our control. There is no formula for innovation. However, there are definitely frameworks, tools, and mindsets we can adopt to maximize the probability that our effort leads to innovation. One such approach that I have used successfully many times over is Design Thinking.
Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.
— Tim Brown, Executive Chair of Ideo
While Design Thinking is no silver bullet, it invariably leads to an outcome or solution that is unexpected or original. It comes as close to a recipe for innovation that I have come across.
The Design Kit website by Ideo.org is a trove of practical guides and tools for using Design Thinking to solve any human-centric problem. For something comprehensive, I recommend their free download: The Field Guide to Human-Centered Design.
AROUND THE WEB
Over the years, IDEO has developed ten roles people can play in an organization to foster innovation and new ideas while offering an effective counter to naysayers. Among these approaches are the Anthropologist—the person who goes into the field to see how customers use and respond to products, to come up with new innovations; the Cross-pollinator who mixes and matches ideas, people, and technology to create new ideas that can drive growth; and the Hurdler, who instantly looks for ways to overcome the limits and challenges to any situation.
What I enjoyed about the book is its inclusiveness when it comes to different personas who can contribute to the innovation process. There is a role for everyone, no matter your capabilities. It also had me introspect on what I am not, indicating what type of people I might need to add to my team to complement my skills.
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