The Art of Innovation

Innovation is arguably the most important characteristic to have if you are looking to start your own business or make an impact in your organization. It's a trending buzzword of the 21st century after the Dot Com Boom and the rise of mega-entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Gary Vaynerchuk, Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos and Marc Benioff.

These successful entrepreneurs have proven that thinking different can pay massive dividends yet learning how to become more creative is often a gray area for many. It's an important issue to address as we move further into the Information Age because technology is quickly cannibalizing administrative and delivery-based jobs. The rise of automation demands for a skillset that technology cannot provide (yet) which is innovation and creativity. Below are five ways for you to start thinking differently:

Associating: Creating uncommon associations is the first step in fostering innovation. Exposure, experience and exploration are key when it comes to gathering enough information to start forming uncommon associations. One way in accomplishing this would be to spend time in foreign countries to understand how culture impacts human behavior. A great example of this would be Steve Jobs who spent a substantial amount of time in India to learn the art of meditation. It is no surprise that after this hiatus, he came back to start Apple, a tech juggernaut that emphasizes simplicity in its UX design. The art of meditation is focused on one breath. The original iPhone was focused on one button.

Questioning: Accepting the world around us without question is a biological trait that has come from adaptation. In the hunter-gatherer society, joining a group and following the rules was the difference between survival and death. Growing up in present day has striking similarities. Many of us are taught to not question our parents, teachers, or principals. It is no wonder why questioning can be so uncomfortable once we hit adulthood. However, without questioning, we cannot possibly drive change or solve problems. When Edwin Land (founder of Polaroid) took a picture of his 3 year old daughter on vacation, she asked why she couldn't see the picture immediately.. which led to the launch of Polaroid - a great example why you should never stop questioning and allow your children to question the world around them as well.

Observing: Observation is a great exercise to foster innovation. Simply watching how people behave and why they do so can provide a tremendous amount of insight to trigger creativity. After all, there is now an entire industry dedicated to it, market research. Spending enough time watching people perform their work or their daily routines can provide a surplus of business ideas. Consider the case of Gary Vaynerchuk. Gary is a well-known entrepreneur who has accumulated wealth from wine, consulting, but also observation. Simply by reporting his observations of the world in his every day content across several social media streams, he has accumulated a following far surpassing many of his entrepreneurial peers - proof that observations are not only valuable for creativity but make for interesting content.

Networking: Here's a particularly interesting element of creativity. Creativity has a common misconception tied to it that it is an individual effort by 'right-brained' people. However, this is hardly the case. Not only is creativity a skillset that requires the integration of your entire brain, it is hardly ever done alone. When people come together to solve a problem, it combines their associations, questions and observations leading to breakthrough results. Several real life examples come to mind when you think of most co-founder businesses. Two personal examples for individuals I have worked for would be Corey Schiller and Asher Raphael of Power Home Remodeling Group and Glen de Vries and Tarek Sharif of Medidata Solutions.

Experimenting: Innovation requires hard work and constant experimentation. Ask any entrepreneur about the inevitable 'pivot' they make for their business. Any idea is an excellent start, but as you continue to build, you learn what works and what doesn't. Continuing to refine the model and push limitations is key to innovation. And once you achieve a viable model and a functional idea, allocating time to conceptualize and execute on new ideas is key for innovation. A textbook example of this would be Google, who provides their employees with a 70/20/10 rule where 70% of their time is to be spent on core responsibilities, 20% of their time on a project related to core responsibilities and 10% on a project unrelated to their core responsibilities. Kudos to you, Eric Schmidt.

In short, innovation isn't a mystical trait that only a few possess. Instead, it's a learned and practiced skill which requires tons of abstract thinking, rejecting status quo, remaining vigilant to the world around you, collaboration, failures and most importantly, a ton of hard work. Take this long weekend to recharge and take a new approach to a lingering problem you are looking to solve.

Thanks for reading,

Shamit Y. Patel

This is a reflection piece based on The Innovator's DNA written by Jeff Dyer, Hal Gregersen, and Clayton M. Christensen.