Where do great ideas come from? The kind that drive innovation — original ideas with purpose that can transform a person, a business or even an entire industry?
It often seems that there is a random creativity to innovation and a dependence on the unexpected, perhaps even the accidental. We cannot simply say, “go forth and innovate.” Or can we?
This month in my CMSWire series, I look at approaches that can increase focus on generating new ideas and technologies that can help drive a path to innovation in the workplace.
Ready, Set, Innovate
Merriam-Webster defines innovation as: “A new idea, device or method.” I prefer the Businessdictionary.com definition, “The process of translating an idea or invention into a good or service that creates value or for which customers will pay.” I think it’s important to include the notion of change — the process of translating to customer value — thus ensuring the idea can fulfill its purpose.
People share ideas with purpose in TED talks every day and remind us that of the strong cultural element to innovation. When I was with GE I did quite a bit of work around the cultural aspects of change, looking at practical techniques that engender new ideas, and their acceptance and adoption. To me, inspiration plays the critical role. First to create an environment that inspires people to great ideas, then to inspire those who must embrace and implement the idea and finally to attract those who will benefit from adopting the innovation.
My company engages in strategy exercises that help inspire big pictures of complex situations. They also encourage participants to make progress, even when they lack perfect information to rely on. This got me wondering, “What can we do every day to encourage new ideas, and what technologies can we leverage to pave the path for valuable innovation to follow?
Here are three approaches I think have merit:
- Innovation at the edges
- Innovation by collision
- Innovation inside the box
Innovation at the Edges
These days our senses are constantly bombarded and our days are over-scheduled, so much so that at times it seems creative thoughts have no room to flourish.
I recently took a holiday in the Adirondacks. I unplugged, sat beside a beautiful crystal clear lake and let my mind wander in search of clarity and inspiration. This we are told is what French artist Yves Klein had in mind with his “Monotone-Silence Symphony." The symphony requires 70 musicians and singers to take turns holding a single sound for 20 minutes, followed by another 20 minutes of DEAD SILENCE. By creating a moment of calm introspection, we have the chance to engage the part of our brain that lets us dream and imagine.
There is a hilarious Big Bang Theory episode, the Einstein Approximation, where Dr. Sheldon Cooper, theoretical physicist and genius (played by comic genius Jim Parsons) attempts to disable his higher brain functions and engage his superior colliculus. Sheldon is stuck on a problem and first tries to sneak up on a breakthrough by viewing his work at the edge as a “fleeting peripheral image.” He then tries pursuing “mind numbing work” in order to get his brain solving the problem without his conscious knowledge.
MIT’s Media Lab director, Joichi Ito, talks about using undirected research to discover answers to questions that we haven’t even asked yet. In his post "Innovation on the Edges in 1925 - 3M," Ito maintains that, “The ability to have strong peripheral vision and pattern recognition skills are essential to embracing serendipity and exploiting opportunities to pivot into new areas while leveraging existing skills.” Looking to the edges is how Dick Drew helped 3M develop a massive market in masking tape, and then expand it further with Scotch Tape. Sandpaper, their original “core” mission, was shunted to the side, a mere ancillary revenue stream.
All these “innovating on the edges” techniques I’ve described have a common core: to free and even at times misdirect our minds to look at things in a new or different way, and to allow creativity to emerge.
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