Friday, April 14, 2006

The Road to Innovation is Paved with Unlikely Connections

Playing Well With Others: People and Ideas

Before directly addressing the problem of working together from the last post, it's useful to articulate clearly goals and strategy.

In three years of interviews of CEOs, VPs, educators, and people from a variety of other professions, everyone agrees that effective thinking can be defined by its results: the ability to create new connections among resources (or potential resources) to solve problems over time.

How To Approach This?

Luckily, everything is connected. The trick is finding out how. That's how innovation works.

We're hard-wired to make connections and recognize patterns automatically. If we are given half an image, our mind creates the other half. If we're given an incident, we often create a back story. By adulthood, we more often draw conclusions often in terms of the odds rather than investigation.

What if we went back to being curious? And listening very carfully? Making the process conscious -- and expanding it to see things new -- exactly comprises the creative thinking.

How We Learn

Human beings learn only by association. We understand something new by it's relationship to something with which we're already familiar. We inch or skate our way into the world from childhood like this, depending on our temperment, experience, and feedback.

Innovation is the process of connecting dots into shapes no one has seen before. Even slight deviations to what we take for granted (eg ideas, applications, processes, and outcomes) have implications for markets and business models.

So how is one thing connected to another?

--Directly (object to object, say) or indirectly (someone who owns that object and someone else who does, too)?
--By aspiration (someone who owns that object and someone who'd like to own one)?
--Conceptually (someone who owns/makes the object and someone who influences laws around object-related issues)?
--Philosophically (education unrelated to the object owner but required for other reasons by object owners and other people who believe in education generally)?

If creativity is the ability to learn continuously across context -- to find meaning and value in different arenas and respond effectively -- then part of that response is an understanding of the connections among issues within one context and another.

The more pairings you try, the more possibilities you see. The possibilities are endless, although circumstances will dictate the best result. Whimsy is useful, but the game is seriously business-minded. Most of all, make time for all the disciplines that make creativity possible.

More in the next post on remembering how to listen.

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