One of the things that troubles me is that all too often we sell ourselves short, and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Example: often when I give a speech or workshop, I ask people to raise their hands if they consider themselves a problem-solver. Nearly every hand goes up. Makes sense…you probably solved 25 problems (most of them tiny) before you sat down to work this morning.
Then I ask them to raise their hands if they consider themselves a good learner. Again, nearly every hand goes up. THEN I ask for the true innovators to raise their hands. On a good day, maybe 2% will raise their hands.
It’s not because they aren’t innovators. It’s because they think about innovation in the wrong way…about innovations. Gadgets and gizmos. Not innovation as a creative action. Here’s the thing: the iterative loop underneath problem-solving, learning (creating new knowledge, not acquiring that of others) and innovation is one and the same.
We need a better definition. One accessible to the everyman. How about this, stolen from David Neeleman, founder of JetBlue:
“Innovation is figuring out a way to do something better than it’s ever been done before.”
Then I re-ask the innovators to raise their hands, using this definition. Almost everyone does.
Studies by folks like the National Society for Performance & Instruction show seven core qualities of creative actions. Innovative people:
- Intend to do things differently.
- Direct their energy toward goals they care about.
- Make high demands on themselves.
- Focus on important problems, trying to find opportunities within them.
- Spend a significant amount of time trying to formulate the problem in depth before attempting to solve it.
- Consider a wide variety of alternatives before committing themselves to a specific direction.
- Often make many attempts, none of them quite satisfactory, before they come up with the right solution.
I’m betting that if you are reading this blog, you’re trying to do something a little better everyday, better than it’s been done before, in some area of your world, on some level. And if I’m right about that, then you’ve got some mix of these seven going on.
So in my book, you’re an innovator. So start thinking about yourself that way!
Matthew E. May is the author of “IN PURSUIT OF ELEGANCE: Why the Best Ideas Have Something Missing.” He is constantly searching for creative ideas and innovative solutions that are ‘elegant’ – a unique and elusive combination of unusual simplicity and surprising power.