“You cannot look in a new direction by looking harder in the same direction.” De Bono, Lateral Thinking
Innovation is touted as a ‘must have’ future capability with evidence that innovative leadership is critical for translating ideas into action and to a company’s success.
At the individual level, creative adaptation is vital as technology impacts everything from the way we meet to what we eat and how we work and play.
Although biologically nothing much has changed for us in the last 200 000 years and we need to respect that through rigorous self-care, the plasticity of the brain allows us to rewire and skill-up to coming challenges.
And we must.
The speed of change is speeding up with futurists like Kurzweilai predicting 20,000 years of progress will be stuffed into the next hundred years.
In A Whole New Mind, Pink argues (video) that those left-brain jobs capable of automation will increasingly be outsourced and that ‘whole brain’ people whose analytical capabilities are matched by creativity or empathy will thrive.
While we bang the drum for the visionaries, the innovators, the creatives; many wonder about their relevance in the world to come. They might thing creativity is beyond their reach, but it is not. By understanding how innovators think and behave, we too can be part of the tribe.
In one of the many recent studies on innovation Dyer, Gregersen and Christensen chunk down the innovator’s skill set, revealing a propensity for questioning, observing, networking and experimentation.
Innovators are voraciously curious, always on the search for deeper or broader knowledge, they move easily across geographical and disciplinary boundaries. This creates a vast ideas pool. Associational thinkers, they draw on observations from seemingly unrelated sources in new and exciting ways. Their message: keep filling your intellectual well.
Unlike delivery managers who enjoy the status quo, disruptive innovators are fearless questioners asking “what is”, “what caused”, “why” and “why not”, a quality some can find threatening. In fact Sinek cites the ability to ask why as the distinguishing feature of a great leader. Their message: never be afraid to probe and remember it is more important to ask than to have the answer.
Innovators observe the world acutely – seeing and listening deliberately. They cast their net wide, diving as deeply into discussion with child or adult, novice or expert – they network for ideas and not for status. Their message: keep your eyes wide and nurture an authentic interest in other people.
While innovators are innately curious, questioning, associational thinkers, these are skills, like most skills, that can be learned and embodied through regular practice.
I’ve combined some tips for developing these attributes with those for creating a ‘happiness advantage’ (which makes you 31% more productive) that I discussed in an earlier post to create a potent recipe for behavioral wellbeing and potentially – the stoking of genius.
- Watch one mind-expanding talk on a subject that interests you – see ted.com or openculture.com for ideas – this feeds your passion and keeps your knowledge evolving.
- Watch one mind-expanding talk on a subject in which you have no interest and on which you know very little – this stretches your boundaries and adds the unknowns into your ideas pool – enhancing your future potential for unusual creative combining.
- Force associations (from The Innovator’s DNA) – there are several exercises that can help – randomly open a publication – force an association between the first image you see and a problem you are trying to solve personally or professionally – for example “a random click on boomerang…might suggest packaging a customer can return or a self-returning package after the produce is used.” Do this once a day to build your associative thinking muscle.
- Engage in question storming (from The Innovator’s DNA) – the authors suggest writing down 50 questions about a problem – no answers. Since this is a daily exercise 50 might be stretching it so practice writing down 5 questions a day to build the questioning muscle.
- Do 20 minutes of any exercise you like – dancing, walking, swimming, running – it doesn’t’ matter as long as you move.
- Write down three things for which you are grateful each day.
- Do something kind for someone else – as Lewis Carroll said – “One of the deep secrets of life is that all that is really worth doing is what we do for others”.