Seven Tricks to Enable Innovation


1. Embrace Simplicity

Einstein famously quipped that "if you can't explain it to a six-year-old, you don't understand it yourself." Indeed, simplifying the complex is usually the highest form of innovation - and makes the innovation accessible to the masses. Have a great idea? Excellent. Now simplify it.

Calculating the volume of irregularly shaped objects was difficult until Archimedes immersed them in water and easily measured how much they displaced.

2. Don't Equate Innovation with Technology

Equating innovation with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) is a disservice to billions of right-brained people. Innovation can be a new way to cook, a new way to approach clients, or a new way to think. If resetting the clock on your microwave is an ordeal, relax: it just means you're very good at something else.

With the advent of photography, painters feared obsolescence. So, rather than painting to capture reality, they developed abstraction to transcend it.

3. Don't Wait for Special Occasions

Innovation isn't reserved for rarefied people in unique situations on auspicious days; innovation is about every person, every process, every day. The more people who innovate, the more innovation there will be.

The decline of European feudalism propelled historically backward Western nations ahead of advanced Eastern nations. People who would otherwise be consigned to plowing fields became philosophers, scientists, artists, engineers, and entrepreneurs.

4. Let People Daydream

You can't be a thought leader if you don't have time to think. Innovative organizations must replace assembly line definitions of productivity with more nuanced interpretations. Staring into space, pacing, doodling, and surfing the internet may drive success. Seeming inefficiencies, like hiring more people to spread the load of traditional work, can create a space for new ideas.

Mozart composed while playing billiards; Edison played a pipe organ in his lab; Einstein daydreamed; Thomas Jefferson doodled.

5. Neither a Loner nor a Crowd-Pleaser be

Contrary to the image of innovators as misunderstood visionaries who work in isolation, innovation is usually a team effort - and always comes from "standing on the shoulders of giants." However, innovation also requires resilience to group thinking and attacks from the "old order." Finally, of course, it demands an ability to differentiate between constructive criticism from allies and abuse from enemies.

Though Darwin gets the credit for unravelling Evolution, he relied on a team of enthusiasts who supplied much of the brainpower and evidence. Called the Devil's Disciple by the British press, he also weathered social ridicule and religious condemnation.

6. Forgo the Obvious

People often view innovation as a better way of getting from A to B, when it may really be about improving A or substituting B with C. Innovation may not answer, "How can I stay better connected to work?" but it may answer, "How can I work better without being connected?"

When people complained about slow elevators in a high-rise, the building eschewed the obvious (and expensive) innovation of faster elevators and installed mirrors. Complaints ceased as self-admiration altered people's perception of time.

7. Forget Perfection

Every solution produces unintended consequences. Think things through to their logical conclusion, but don't discard good solutions for want of perfection: if humanity always forwent the good for the sake of the perfect, we'd still be living in caves and hunting mammoth.

Cars were an innovative solution to the problems of trains, which replaced the problems of horses, which remedied the problems of walking. Today, society is trying to address the problems of cars.

Powernoodle promotes innovation through engaged decision making.

PN3Wayne GerberInnovation