Forcing Innovation

Yes you read it right. Today we are discussing the approach I have seen in some companies where they try to force innovation. As you will soon realize I am against it. The thing about innovation is that you shouldn’t try too hard. The best innovations or discoveries happen at the most unexpected times and often as a result of being prepared to recognize an opportunity rather than trying to create it. Companies today are forced to constantly come up with the next big thing or perish. An environment that in itself is not conducive to innovation. It’s like pointing a gun at someone and asking them to laugh genuinely.

Having been part of an exercise intended to bolster innovation in my previous company I understand the reasoning behind the daylong session on how to innovate but reject the assumption that it will suddenly have employees going “Eureka”. Some of the greatest innovators are actually creatures of habit. Their brains just wouldn’t stop thinking. Naturally while Einstein fits the above definition he wouldn’t be called an innovator (changing the field entirely and leaving generations of physicists after, to comprehend your genius requires a whole new word) but here are a few notable others Gauss, Newton,Edison, Hooke, Tesla oh and of course Da Vinci to name a few.

Innovation is almost always mentioned in the same breath as “Think outside the box”. One thing you will see in the above list is that each of them had a primary field of study however still contributed to almost every branch of science as well. By specializing in a particular field you have already defined the box whether you like it or not. When I started my company I tried to create an environment that was conducive to innovation, enough freedom to RnD in fact I encouraged my employees to take some time off to do something that they felt was a promising idea. The result: – Every idea was a variation of something already out there. I realized a few important things after that

  • You can’t force people to innovate. Be it attending workshops or the more subtle workspace freedom? A creative person being forced into it probably won’t come up with anything useful.
  • It’s all in the mind. A person who never needed to be creative isn’t going to become so just because you asked.
  • It requires diversity in personal experiences.

So what’s the answer? Kids.

Yes, experience is good for business. Experience makes for better workers who are good at their jobs. However it also restricts our ability to imagine without boundaries. Kids are not restricted by any of that, for them a spaceship can take off from earth and reach Mars in a day, for them it is possible to shoot lasers from your eyes now all you need to do is find a way to do it.

We need to encourage creativity at Home (not the schools). We need to be constantly challenged every day. The first few times we complain, the next few times we starting thinking of a solution, then we start looking for challenges. There is an interesting story about Torrance tests that you should read when you get the chance. So what do we do in my company now? Most days we twiddle our thumbs and some days we have a few sparks of genius.