Innovate Like Sherlock Holmes

Innovate Like Sherlock Holmes - Innovation ExcellenceI am a fan of mysteries. I think they can train the brain to be a better innovator.

I’m currently re-reading the complete works of Sherlock Holmes. In A Study in Scarlet, Holmes provides some great perspectives that everyone should consider.

After Holmes made some amazing deductions about Watson’s current state of affairs, Watson was shocked. When Holmes explained his thought process, Watson expressed disbelief.

Watson: When I hear you give your reasons, the thing always appears to me to be so ridiculously simple that I could easily do it myself, though at each successive instance of your reasoning I am baffled until you explain your process. And yet I believe that my eyes are as good as yours.

Holmes: Quite so. You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear. For example, you have frequently seen the steps which lead up from the hall to this room.

Watson: Frequently.

Holmes: How often?

Watson: Well, some hundreds of times.

Holmes: Then how many are there?

Watson: How many? I don’t know.

Holmes: Quite so! You have not observed. And yet you have seen. That is just my point. Now, I know that there are seventeen steps because I have both seen and observed.

As innovators, we need to do a better job of observing, not just seeing. We need to study what is really going on in the market, with our customers.

Unfortunately too often we just see without insight.

This will lead to a predicament that is described later in the story. Holmes is presented with a challenge, and Watson immediately wants to deduce the solution.

Watson: This is indeed a mystery. What do you imagine that it means?

Holmes: I have no data yet. It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.

This is brilliant! It describes a common mistake of innovators. We often get too attached to our ideas, and, therefore, ignore evidence that goes against our beliefs. This is why so many innovations fail.

Too often we twist the facts to suit our theories.

The reason is that as human beings we are subject to confirmation bias; the brain’s processing mechanism by which it finds evidence to support its belief structure. Whatever you believe, you will find evidence to support it, and you will subconsciously ignore anything that refutes it. That’s why we can have such powerful beliefs in spite of evidence to the contrary.

We get too attached to our ideas, and therefore, we introduce innovations that are destined to fall flat.

Or as Scott Cook from Intuit so eloquently said, “For every one of our failures, we had spreadsheets that looked awesome.”

During your innovation efforts, think like Sherlock Holmes. Be sure to truly observe what is going on in the world around you. Use this to gather the necessary data. And, critically, avoid twisting your facts to support your beliefs.

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Stephen ShapiroStephen Shapiro is the author of five books including “Best Practices Are Stupid” and “Personality Poker” (both published by Penguin). He is also a popular innovation speaker and business advisor. Follow Stephen @stephenshapiro

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