It is tempting to think of innovation as a rare skill that belongs to a specific class of people, the likes of Steve Jobs, Marissa Mayer or Elon Musk. It is easy to think that they have something that the rest of us do not have. However, innovation is a muscle that we are all naturally equipped with, and like any habit, practice strengthens this skill.
An innovator is someone who introduces new methods or ideas to do something or solve a specific problem. The act of innovation is both cognitive and emotional. Coming up with a creative insight or solution starts in the subconscious as a cognitive act.
Innovators are willing to entertain a wider range of impulse and action than others who are less adventurous.
However, realizing the value of your insight, nurturing it, and following through calls on emotional competencies like self-confidence, initiative and the ability to persuade other people to see the value of what you see.
The creative part of the mind is by its very nature a bit restless. There is a natural tension between orderly self-control and the urge for innovation. It is not that creative people are out of control emotionally; rather, they are willing to entertain a wider range of impulse and action than others who are less adventurous. This is the type of attitude that creates new possibilities.
Levi Strauss’s Dilemma
Levi Strauss, the huge garment manufacturer, faced a dilemma regarding two sewing subcontractors in Bangladesh who were using child labourers. International human rights activists were pressuring Levi Strauss to stop allowing contractors to use underage workers.
On the other hand, company investigators discovered that if the children lost their jobs, they would be reduced to penury and could be driven into prostitution or starvation. The company was faced with the option of firing them, and making a principled stand against child labour or keeping them on and protecting them from a worse fate.
The innovative solution was neither. Levi Strauss decided to keep the children on the payroll while they went to school full time and then when they reached fourteen, the local age of maturity, hired them back.
Coming to such an innovative solution demanded entertaining out of the box ideas that might have initially sounded risky or radical, then, having the courage to pursue them anyway.
The heart of Innovation
At the heart of innovation is taking pleasure in originality and authenticity.
At the heart of innovation is taking pleasure in originality and authenticity. Innovation is all about applying new ideas to achieve results by thoroughly understanding the issues, simplifying them and then finding original connections and patterns that others typically would overlook.
People who lack the skill of innovation by contrast, typically miss the larger picture and get trapped in the details and so deal with complex problems only slowly and tediously. Their fear of risk makes them shy away from novel or radical ideas or worse; constantly deride or undermine innovative approaches. When they try to find solutions, they often fail to realize that what worked in the past is not always the answer for the future.
Competency in innovation is characterized by the humility and openness to seek out fresh ideas from a wide variety of sources and the ability to entertain original solutions to problems. Innovators are relentless generators of new ideas, risk-takers and are keen to always add fresh perspectives in their thinking.
How can you begin?
- Preparation: The first step is to prepare yourself by immersing yourself in the problem you are trying to solve. This involves gathering a broad range of data and information, speaking to different experts and colleagues, reading and talking to people outside of your normal circle to understand different points of view about the problem. This stage more often than not sometimes leads to a frustrating impasse: lots of possibilities, but no insights.
- Incubation: In this phase, the information and possibilities simmer on a mental back burner. This is where Sherlock Holmes’s “mind palace” approach comes in handy. The mind palace is not a physical location, but a set of rooms or a specific location in your mind to store information. Using all of the information you’ve collected about the problem, you can daydream, free-associate, brainstorm, see patterns, connections and harvest ideas as they float up. Depending on the problem, this phase can take days or months.
- Illumination: This is the “aha!” moment where the breakthrough of insight comes. Insights themselves can be thought of as quiet — below the commotion of everyday thought. “Aha!” moments have been known to appear during states of meditation or ruminations, no matter how busy or engrossed you are with a problem, taking some time away or going on a walk is likely to help your mind find the right connections. The “Aha!” moment is a thrilling moment, a culmination. However, illumination is not enough, it is only the beginning.
- Execution: The world is littered with promising ideas and insights that were never actualized. Execution is about following through with action, this phase demands a dogged persistence despite objections, setbacks, trials and failures that typically arise with any innovative endeavour. People with high emotional intelligence skills in self-confidence, self-control and persistence are more likely to follow through on their great ideas to reach success.
Hi, I’m David and I coach professionals to upgrade their resume, improve their emotional intelligence and earn more money. I am a professional recruiter and work as a consultant for a world-class recruiting firm. You can learn more about me at davidowasi.com. Also, feel free to check out my Ultimate Career Guide Course on Udemy.