Saturday, December 31, 2011

Qualities of innovators

To be innovative, one has to (1) choose right issues, then (2) conceive new solutions and then (3) take actions. To choose right issues, one needs to observe and question. To come up with new solutions, one needs to associate different things and network with others. Then implement. Here I summarize five qualities of innovators in three categories.

1. Observing and questioning: choosing right issues


Innovators are good at observing things. Here, observing is not just seeing; it is the deed to find out implications. Like an anthropologist, they spend relatively long time to observe the issues. One way to be a good observer is to experience the situation. This way you get much information in very short time. That may be why many innovators love to do field studies.


Innovators often ask questions, especially “why” and “what if” sort of ones. They often question “the unquestionable”, as Steve Jobs asked “why personal computers need a fun?” When you continue to question the issues, you’ll probably get to the essence of issues.

2. Associating and networking: coming up with new solutions

Associational thinking

The art of innovation is connecting different things. According to Einstein, it is “combinational play”. Pattern of associational thinking is said to be: substitute, combine, adopt, magnify, minimize, modify, put to other use, eliminate, reverse and rearrange.

There are some tips in associational thinking.

  • Forced association: use a problem and random idea to make a possible association
  • Use persona of others
  • Metaphor: e.g. “What if TV watching is like magazine reading? (it was the origin of TIVO)”
  • Curiosity box: you have a box in which things you’re interested in are, and when you face problems you open the box and think of associational solution


What Einstein said provides an implication on it:

“Somebody who only reads newspapers and at best books of contemporary authors looks to me like an extremely near-sighted person who scorns eyeglasses. He is completely dependent on the prejudices and fashions of his times, since he never gets to see or hear anything else. And what a person thinks on his own, without being stimulated by the thoughts and experiences of others, is even in the best cases rather paltry and monotonous. There are only a few enlightened people with a lucid mind and style and with good taste within a century. What has been preserved of their work belongs among the most precious possessions of mankind. We owe it to a few writers of antiquity (Plato, Aristotle, etc.) that the people in the Middle Ages could slowly extricate themselves from the superstitions and ignorance that had darkend life for more than half a millennium. Nothing is more needed to overcome the modernist’s snobbishness.”

Innovators are connected with people with various backgrounds or experiences many concepts, as Steve Jobs learned from Zen to invent apple's products. As mentioned before, the art of innovation comes from associating different concepts. If you want to be innovative, you’d better to have many “dots” to be connected in the future.

3. Experimenting: implementation

Innovators are good doers. Thomas Edison said “I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that do not work”.

Innovative people try to prepare a prototype as soon as possible. Making prototypes first has many virtues; you can detect potential issues associated with the product, sense voice of the clients, and solicit creativities.

Another way of experimenting is taking things apart: disassemble, map out a process, de-construct an idea.

Those qualities are not product of genius, and you all can attain those qualities through practice.

Reference: “Innovator’s DNA”, authored by Dyer, Gregersen and Christensen

No comments: