Innovation. A modern word. A catchall word many seek to realize in their efforts. Groups and people strive to produce or benefit from it. Innovation is something remarkably different that it creates new, beneficial possibilities. Successful innovation is emotional, not merely mechanical, because it has to relate in such a way to commit others to change what they are doing. Many innovations that are unsuccessfully adopted, though are innovations, are valuable scholarship on the way to successful innovation. What can be done to grow innovation capacity?
The source of innovation is the none-linear part of the mind. It is the part of the mind we may successfully shut off if we over-emphasize analytical thinking. High proficiency in going from point A to B is exceedingly valuable in moments when it is necessary. The nature of linearity is a closed system that reinforces its attributes. Useful as a tool but insufficient for generating new sources of output.
The none-linear state of thought can be best harnessed in two ways. First, an idea simply emerges. An idea could be a strong impression about a different direction. It can be a sense that another, much better possibility is available. Implied in this process is the lack of total knowledge each of us possess. Your great idea may already exist unknown to you. What you perceive as unique, novel insights may have been covered with great effort by others. Regardless, your opportunity may be to try a similar path in a better way. A better implementation that succeeds in ways other approaches did not. The true test of the idea at this stage is the extent to which it unfolds in the mind.
The second way to harness the mind in pursuit of innovation is to ask a simple question. What are you really trying to achieve? The answer to that question, and its quality level, determines innovation. Asking the question is the easy part. Going through the process of driving towards a high quality answer can be immensely difficult. That answer determines the process you follow towards making the answer real. An entire universe of tangentially related, but nonetheless important concepts can be involved. The more your answer can reflect the breadth and depth of an insight, the more an effect the outcome can have.
Innovation begins in the mind, whether intentional, an accident, or a momentary exercise of keen observation. The source of innovation becomes real through process. The rules are the same for individuals and groups. Individuals may have to manage competing thoughts, known as teamwork in groups, but moreover, the ability to execute and execute well is vital to produce worthy innovations and worthy failed attempts that may lead to such.
Skills before ideas is a phrase I have used in the past. It means that while ideas are the source of innovation, the ideas do not impact anyone unless they can be communicated in material, verbal, or pictorial form (writing is inherently pictorial). You have to pick the right form. Some ideas that would change social policy, for example, may find a suitable venue in politics, leadership situations, and marketing as words spoken or written. Technology, music, movies, and buildings are forms suited for other kinds of ideas.
A person’s competency in the ingredient processes to realize an idea will influence how that idea is represented. More competency is better but a balance has to be struck between growing competency and leaving space for realizing ideas. No gauge as to the ratio of competence to creative capacity is decided, concrete science. A rule I accept is the 10,000 hour rule. I never read the book that made the quote famous. I accept the premise from my own experience.
The 10,000 hour rule can be misread. I do not interpret it as 10,000 hours in tool xyz. Rather, I define it as 10,000 hours in concept xyz. Therefore, I am really describing competency in the exercise of concrete concepts such as writing, literature, math, visual illustration, photography, software coding, singing, martial arts, surveying, and leading. You must put in the time in order to succeed. What does that time look like?
Assuming a 40 hour work week, the 10,000 hour rule would roughly equate to 5 years dealing with a concept. That means that many young people who pursue certain activities in their youth and keep it up into their young adulthood may already possess several latent competencies they can exercise towards innovation as young entrepreneurs. That also means that many experienced adults possess a tremendous among of managerial, leadership, life, and professionally hardened competencies they can direct with great force towards ideas should they choose. The 10,000 hour rule is not something you always intend, it is something that is active in the background.
As an individual, moving towards innovation, competently, means you follow a course to see it happen. You may know the general course to take, but have to steer in unanticipated ways (called details) in order to get back on course. What is the course? A general process may be Idea -> Definition -> Development -> Feedback Cycle -> Delivery -> Determination.
This kind of process may not be traversed linearly with you needing to jump between different stages in order to get things right. This process may apply to gathering knowledge, building competence, or refining actions. Within a structured company, such a cycle may seem straightforward and often appears to proceed linearly, but an individual who is following an innovative path may cycle through multiple stages before determining that the work is done. A group may do the same, but the barriers to doing so can be greater.
Imagination is not linear. You do not grow imagination. It a dynamic sense people have that can shape the world. Imagination can guide and precede knowledge. Knowledge can be a way to clarify the essence and vague edges of an imagined context(s). They work together to amplify each. You do not grow imagination through knowledge because someone with far less knowledge but maybe high artistic abilities can imagine much that the most studied individuals may not describe. Where do these vast creative insights shown in literature, art, performance, and craft come from? They come from a much deeper, non-linear capacity.
I wrote this article after reading, Our Universities Are Not Teaching Innovation, by Henry Doss on Forbes.com. The article talked about how some education institutions may not be cultivating innovation. The points he raised seems valid. I am reminded that innovators have come out of the education establishment. Notably some theoretical physicists and some who made breakthroughs in operating systems and computer network technology. A large number of them work at Google. Missing from the list though are those who made huge breakthroughs in end-user product development. The category of those who created breakthrough new products in recent times seemed to have inspired other companies such as Apple, Microsoft, and Facebook. The founders are of an entirely different kind as was their imaginative capacities.
Competence is built by knowledge and confirmed through practice. You must do, study, and do. Building your knowledge is a means towards increasing the capacity to integrate more ideas, express thoughts, and exercise thoughts well. You recognize more things, and those tangential things I spoke about earlier are more within your cognitive scope to retain and express. You do have to plan the course of your active knowledge gathering, because of time. Yet, due to the nature of experience, we are often gathering knowledge moment to moment.
Action is where innovation becomes reality. Contemplation skill is the foremost way to build a breeding ground in the mind for ideas and new ways of doing things. Many practices exist in the realm of contemplation. The chief benefit is not just birthing ideas but sustaining them in mind until they are defined more fully until the point you may decide to subject those ideas to analysis. You can leap to implementation or apply various analysis methods to consider quality, feasibility, and clarification. Either way, action is the way to know if the idea is innovative. Action can be words spoken to spur others to high achievement, writings, imagery, and expressions that illustrate broad sentiment or efforts of the eyes and hand to make thoughts tangible. Innovation begins with imagination exercised through action.
Innovation takes practice.
See also, a short definition of innovation.