Innovation Is More Than Invention

“Innovation is the art of getting people to adopt change.”  -via ‘The Innovator’s Way’

Too often, when we hear certain words, the wrong representation comes to mind. Such as, when we hear the word creativity, we have this tendency to bring to mind the idea of the lone artist or scientist holed up in their laboratory or loft creating work that is destined to change the world. And while that may be the case in some instances, most often creativity is happening all around us, by people just like you and me, who are persisting diligently in their daily life to breath new life and energy into their work.

The same thing also seems to happen with the word innovation. When we hear innovation we have this tendency to think of some grand invention being created to change our lives. We think of Thomas Edison, the Wright Brothers, Alexander Bell, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Steve Jobs. We think of some original, novel, and new product or conception that pulls the rug out from under our feet and changes our path into the future.

And that is unfortunate.

When we entertain these fallacies and false representations of important terms like creativity and innovation, we allow those mental myths to push us away engaging in that kind of work. We have to understand that creativity and innovation are too important to the future of our organizations and institutions to entertain wrong notions that hinder us from engaging in the work that will be necessary and required of each of us to move forward effectively into and beyond the 21st century.

However, you still may be asking, if innovation isn’t the just invention of something original, novel and new…then just what is it?

But, before we go any further, let me clarify that innovation can and is the invention of something original, novel and new, it just doesn’t stop there. That is just a part of what innovation is.

When you look at the definition of innovation, you find that words like alteration, transformation, breakthrough, and change come forward.

And the deeper you look, the more you start to see that innovation is truly about change. Whether that change comes in an invention, or a new method, approach or process…a change. Which means that innovation can be as much mental, as physical in nature. Especially, if innovation is about, what John Seely Brown shares in the foreword of ‘The Innovator’s Way’ as being “the art of getting people to adopt change.”

Which means that innovation is going to require a bit of novel and new…in what we create, the ideas that we put forth, the methods we incorporate, the processes we design, and what we consider and even how we think.

And when we put this lens on innovation, when we frame it in these terms, we begin to see that innovation is not beyond each of one of us.

“The core of the work of innovation appears to be getting people to accept and implement change, and to sacrifice old, familiar ways in order to gain new ways.  For success at innovation, we must learn to do this well.”  -via ‘The Innovator’s Way’

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Change: Play, Imagination, Creativity And Innovation

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Sketch courtesy of Amy Burvall 

“The need for innovation – the lifeblood of business – is widely recognized, and imagination and play are key ingredients for making it happen.”  -John Seely Brown and Douglas Thomas ‘A New Culture of Learning’

It is not so much that the world has changed, as much as we have.  The way we connect, the way we access, the way we think, even the way we learn.

Which is why our ability to think in creative and innovative ways will be fundamental to our survival in the future.  Not only to solve the problems that plague us, but to deal with the exponential rate and expansiveness of change that we will face.

And we will need to be much more adept and flexible in our thinking to deal with this change.  It will require us to live much more in a state of flux.  Our sense of equilibrium will not be as easy or steady.  We will have to learn to live with stability and instability crashing in and upon each other, constantly.  Often creating a sense of anxiety and chaos amidst this rate of change.

The problem is that we struggle to let change happen.  To let it evolve.  We struggle to let our creative and innovative thinking develop organically where it wants and needs to go during these times of change.  We try to control and restrict the process.  We invoke structures, create protocols, in an attempt and belief that we can suppress and slow down this change.

“Traditional approaches to learning are no longer capable of coping with a constantly changing world.”

But, if we are going to be more creative, more innovative in the future, maybe we need to rethink our efforts at control.  Our attempts to diminish the speed of change.  Maybe we need to reach back to our younger years and consider how we dealt with change as children.  Or as Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown put forth in ‘A New Culture of Learning’…

“Children use play and imagination as the primary mechanisms for making sense of their new, rapidly evolving world.  In other words, as children encounter new places, people, things, and ideas, they use play and imagination to cope with the massive influx of information they receive.”

And while children use play and imagination to access and deal with new learning, new knowledge and a rapidly evolving and changing world…we do little to invoke this as adults.  Rather, we move farther and farther away from this.  We see less and less need for play, for curiosity, for imagination.  We look to make sense.  To suppress wonder for fact.  Often subduing our joy and want for learning in the process.

“Thus, as a child grows and becomes accustomed to the world, the perceived need for play diminishes.”

But, what we are finding, are those things are becoming less and less viable, and less and less constant.

Whether children or adults, though we believe it is radically different, much stays the same in our minds and our thinking.  Or as Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown share, we still…

“Both wonder, “What do I do now?  How do I handle this new situation, process this new information, and make sense of this new world?

As children, so as adults.  We are both trying to make sense of the world around us and the rate of change we are facing.  This state of flux.  This stability and instability we are constantly facing.  And maybe, just maybe…

What Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown may be saying, is that…

Play, imagination, curiosity, inquiry, and wonder may just be what is needed and necessary, if we are to approach this change world in a more creative and innovative manner.

As adults and children.

References and quotes from…

Thomas, Douglas and Seely Brown, John.  A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change. 2011.

Everyday Creativity

“Everyday creativity isn’t about the isolated individual and his or her special genius thought processes. It’s about social encounters, and it happens more in the action of execution than in thinking or planning.” -Ken Sawyer ‘Explaining Creativity: The Science of Human Innovation’

We still have a tendency to think about creativity in big ‘C’ rather than little ‘c’ terms.  The new product that disrupts entire markets.  The lone genius lost in their laboratory dreaming up inventions that will eventually change our world.  Or the divinely anointed experts who are creating new, novel and original ideas that will change how we think and do.

This is how we think of creativity…and it often limits us and our organizations.  When we see creativity in these terms, we avoid it because we see it as an insurmountable mountain to scale.  It effects our mindset.  And it hinders our efforts to scale creativity across our organizations.

If we want more creativity.  If we want to get to more innovation.  We have begin to think in ‘everyday’ terms.  We must begin to determine how we make creativity an inherent and integral part of our everyday work.

In ‘Explaining Creativity’, Keith Sawyer discusses six researched learnings on how we can begin to infuse creativity into the sphere of our daily work…

  1. Everyday creativity is collaborative;
  2. Everyday creativity is improvised;
  3. Everyday creativity can’t be planned in advance, or carefully revised before execution;
  4. Everyday creativity emerges unpredictably from a group of people;
  5. Everyday creativity depends on shared cultural knowledge;
  6. In everyday creativity, the process is the product.

When looking at these researched learnings on making space for ‘everyday creativity’…we might begin to see why it is difficult to engage and scale creativity and innovation in education.

  • Too often we work in isolation, silos…rather than connected, collaborative communities.
  • Much of our work is carried out through well planned lessons. There is often little room or time for exploration, experimentation and discovery.
  • In education, we thrive and work for predictability and linearity.  We like to remove the unknowns and unpredictable from our work.  We try to create lessons that are fail proof.
  • Much of our focus is on the destination, rather than the journey.  We hold up the product over the process.

When you really look deeply at what the research of these studies provides us, we see our humanness as the core of creativity.  It requires vulnerability, a willingness to connect and collaborate with others.  A willingness to push our ideas and learning into places and spaces we’ve never been, and often never considered.  A willingness to let go of control and allow the process to unfold in its own unpredictable way.  Which is neither easy nor comfortable.  As well as being very foreign to our educational landscape, in most instances.  And above all, it requires not just vulnerability, but the courage afforded through safe and trusting environments to take the risks to begin to engage in this work.

When we determine to open this path…

We will begin to realize creativity and innovation on an ‘everyday’ basis.

“Our everyday creativity is not only good for us but also one of the most powerful capacities we have, bringing us alive in each moment, affecting our health and well-being, offering richness and alternatives in what we do, and helping us move further in our creative and personal development.”  -Ruth Richards

The Problem Of Innovation

The thing about innovation, more often than not, it finds you…before you find it.

The best innovations are usually not something we go out of our way to search out and find.  Rather, most often, innovation finds and reveals itself to us.

Not because we are smart, not because we are clever, or imaginative, or creative, or interesting, or even knowledgable…but, because we are willing to ask the question.  Why?  We are willing to ask why something is the way it is.  And it is that question, that why, that we just can’t seem to get past.  It nags and pesters at us.  It clings to us and won’t seem to leave us or our consciousness alone.  Continuing to pull at us until we finally find ourselves willing to do something about it.

Innovation often begins its journey as a question…

Many people ask why everyday.  And it never leads to creative problem solving or innovative design.  For most of us, why’s proliferate our every waking hour.  Every time we run into a problem, we ask why?  Why hasn’t someone come up with an answer for this?  Why hasn’t someone already solved this problem?  Why?  Why?  Why?  It is this process of asking why, that eventually transforms our question into a problem that needs to be solved.

At some point, innovation moves from being a question to a problem…

It is the relentlessness of that question, framing it as a problem to be solved, the need for a better way, that finally forces us into action.  Innovation begins when move from asking why, to actually doing something about it.  When we decide to take action.  When we decide to provide a solution to that question and problem that just won’t leave us alone.

Innovation, is inevitably, the result of the action we unleash towards those questions and problems that won’t seem to leave us alone…