Thinking About Thinking

Over the last two decades we’ve become a little bit obsessed with ‘ innovation.’

A Google search brings up 680 million results for the word. It’s fair to say that for eccentrics like me, it’s the process of innovation that excites — and for the majority it’s really the promise of what it may bring. Whether it’s a snazzy bot that means you’ll never step foot in a bank again or a wicked combination of ice cream flavors that collide for a culinary explosion in your mouth — what we really care about is value.

Innovation may involve inventing something entirely new – say like the printing press. Or it may entail taking existing technologies and recombining them to make something delightful, say ‘clunkers’ — or what has evolved as today’s mountain bike. In these and other scenarios that call for ingenuity, adopting an innovation mindset can help unlock value.

Of course, that’s easier said than done. So here are three pointers to keep in mind, both literally and figuratively as you embark on your innovation journey:

1. Think in systems.

Networks are beautiful. They are complex, unpredictable and powerful. And they are also wonderfully flexible.

NYU Stern Professor Scott Galloway refers to today’s monopolies as ‘Benjamin Button‘ companies. That is, in stark contrast to the moment you drive your new Nissan off the dealer lot and find it drastically depreciates in value, when Netflix births yet another addictive original series — it perpetually increases in value.

Thinking and building for systems, means looking at how your product or service will increase in value over time through the magic of network effects.

2. Practice naivety.

Some of the smartest people in the world suffer from a mean case of confirmation bias. Having humility, and learning to sustain judgment are desirable characteristics when it comes to the business of innovation.

In many instances a surefire way to help reinforce an innovation mindset is to surround yourself with those who have significant distance from your field — also known sometimes as naysayers.

3. Connect the dots.

Related to ‘distance from the field’ is the uncanny propensity to explore the unknown. It’s in the liminal space — in between industries, fields, and disciplines — where innovation truly happens.

Case in point is synthetic biology (the field itself) and the major breakthroughs that have occurred in just the past two decades (including DNA sequencing). Diversity is no longer a lip-service inclusion program, it’s simply good business.

And when it comes to creativity, the wider and richer the world views are at the decision making table — the better off you are. Indeed, the famous cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead had it right all along championing the benefits and beauty of all our contrasting human gifts.

Yes, this may be easier said than done. I’ve found it helps to act yourself into new ways of thinking. And never stop experimenting. It’s when things don’t quite work out, that innovation may be lurking around the corner.

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