Saturday, December 19, 2015

Anyone Can Innovate: but it ain't easy

“Not everyone can become a great artist; but a great artist *can* come from *anywhere*”
- Anton Ego, from the film “Ratatouille”

“Genius Is One Percent Inspiration, Ninety-Nine Percent Perspiration”
- Benjamin Franklin

Innovation is that ill-defined buzzword that dominates the headlines in our world of billion dollar tech startups and rapidly evolving society.  It’s that bit of magic which we don’t truly understand but recognize years after it has already changed out lives.  Innovation is the creator of new billion dollar industries and the slayer of once-powerful corporate dinosaurs.  We’ve learned that the key to innovation is not some secret recipe written on a post-it note and locked in a safe in Silicon Valley.  Innovation processes are tools that can aid innovation, but by themselves, they create nothing.  The secret is people.

Innovators are the new rock stars of the Tech Boom that is leading the way into the next century.  Engineers and venture capital don’t flock to processes.  They follow innovative leaders.  The media loves to promote the belief that innovation is a gift bestowed on the few.  But this hero-based mythology of the extraordinary that permeates our culture is far from the truth.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers”, he debunks the myth of exceptionalism and shows that what makes world class “talented” piano players. rock stars. and sports stars is practice.  The Beatles simply practiced more than anyone else (10,000 hours to be exact).  This is no less true for “innovators” like Bill Gates.  But it is important that HOW you practice IS very important.  Focused practice is required to reach expertise.  

I believe that innovative thinking is a skill.  It’s a skill that anyone can achieve, but like any other skill, achieving mastery isn’t easy.  Honing your innovative thinking isn’t a weekend project, but a lifelong philosophy. The good news is that in this case, practice consists of mostly fun and creative exercises.  In this blog I will lay out my thoughts on how to train innovative thinking and publish exercises to get you in the habit of innovating.  

To practice something, you must first define it.  I posit that innovative thinking is:

“looking at a problem or a situation in a unique way, resulting in insights that drive new solutions.”   

In the following posts, I’ll start detailing out

  • INGREDIENTS: key aspects of innovative thinking
  • KNIFE SKILLS: fun exercises and games to hone your ability think different
  • RECIPES: methods to try when looking for innovative solutions
  • TOOLS: resources that aid innovation