Let me start by saying that I’m a firm believer in the capacity for anyone to develop incredible, innovative ideas. “Creative” people don’t have a stranglehold on innovation in my book. Innovation is about bringing new ideas to light and improving existing ones…and that can come from anyone, anywhere.
I’ll also confess that I’d probably be characterized as a “creative” type. Ideas actually do just seem to pop into my head, especially in verbal and conceptual realms. But, I’d be lying if I said that the “Aha” moments I have are always great innovations. They’re usually not…at least not right from the get-go.
There’s good innovation and then there’s great innovation. We want to get to the latter…which means innovative pushback on typical ways of achieving innovation.
Fortunately, this confirms what the data says. There’s a value in collaboration and even in pushing back on new ideas and in fact; it even has neurological rooting.
Now we can better understand why, for the best innovators, there’s seemingly always a better way to do things. This is an oft cited example but it goes directly to the point. Why aren’t we all using Xerox personal computers? The Xerox Parc Innovation team invented the PC as we know it…
Well, it’s because that was just the first (and truthfully not the biggest or best) innovation in the space of making technology accessible and useful on a mass scale. It took Steve Jobs’ dissonance and tinkering to take the Xerox version and make it into something that held true utility and value for society as a whole.
What started as incredible product innovation got augmented to levels of societal innovation. The key question is how this happened and how ideas get put into a new realm. The mouse that the Xerox Parc scientists came up with was a game changer for the realm of computing. The true game changing moment though was in the iterative, post-first instinct level thinking that translated easier computing into an easier way to live life. Malcolm Gladwell made this point in his excellent New Yorker article on this very topic, though he defined it as “tweaking”.
I think an even more robust statement comes from this article in Forbes—“The fundamental problem in innovation isn’t one of generating more new ideas. It’s a matter of running the organization in a way that is open to new ideas…”
This is where the brain comes back into play because being open to new ideas means accepting that innovation can and should come from diverse people and diverse perspectives.
Everyone characterized Steve Jobs as a Conceptual guru (research in Harvard Business Review from Professors Jeffrey Dyer, Hal Gregerson and Clayton Christenson) but in this case, the incessant tweaking brings to mind a structurally- preferenced person with an incredible eye for detail. Getting to the point of game-changing innovation requires thinking beyond the technical elements (how the mouse worked – thanks Xerox innovators) and the perfectionism (thanks Steve Jobs) and put it into a framework for a new vision (The Big Brother Ad Campaign that shook up everything) and a new way to connect and relate to others (things like the iPad).
All from different kinds of thinking…all contributing to innovation that broadly affects society. We love Apple because it is beautiful, clean and cool. We use Apple products because they simply work seamlessly. We swear by Apple because it allows us to connect in with others and with other parts of our brain in new ways.
Innovation happens because the pathways in your brain work to stimulate new ideas. Game changing innovation happens because we have the capacity to draw from different kinds of brains with different pathways.
image credit: american illustration 27
Mark E. Miller is the Director of Marketing for Emergenetics International – an organizational development consulting company dedicated to expanding the capabilities of the one thing most valuable to every one of our clients – their people. Follow us on Twitter.