Innovation is Seeing the Invisible

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In an FEI11 presentation by Timothy Grayson, author of The Spaces in Between, Grayson shared how successful innovators don’t look at the the dots or the lines connecting them, but the spaces in between. Grayson started by saying when it comes to innovation, we (people) are the problem. He believes we are programed to make innovation harder and that becoming better innovators means seeing what is invisible. Grayson listed some reasons we get in our own way including:

  • Cognitive biases – status quo bias, ambiguity effect…we don’t know what is going on in our own heads
  • Complexity and chaos science. In short, we have incorrect beliefs…we believe in stability, then every now and then we get a disproportionate, catastrophic event like the natural disasters that hit New Orleans, Haiti and Japan
  • Behavioral economics – makes us question whether or not we should believe in things like supply and demand
  • We get stuck in ruts that those who came before us created. And, because the future is path dependent on what happened in the past, it makes it more difficult to get out of the rut.

Grayson then poked holes in the reasons why we get in our own way including: the information we base our decisions on are unstable (information changes), information is incomplete (sometimes, we need to wait for things to unfold), information is a narcotic, or addictive (it is hard to be novel because we are stuck trying to deal with what is there).

Grayson sees the success in innovation as the ability to see what no one else can see and act on it. Here are his 7 tips for getting out of your own way and seeing the invisible:

  1. Be observant
  2. Break the rules (can’t discover unless you break rules, or color whole new lines)
  3. Gather broad knowledge (be obsessively curious in order to make connections)
  4. Watch your metaphors (every now and then try out something new, just because)
  5. Act now (action in a system changes a system)
  6. Guess…and get lucky (never underestimate the power of serendipity. If it doesn’t succeed, you’ve narrowed the potential alternatives, or discovered something better)
  7. Make stuff up (since it is invisible, you’ll need to do this anyway. Play “What if?… ” Look for novelty)

In closing, Grayson provided the following advice, “As innovators, we need to see the invisible. Stop looking for what is obvious. Search the spaces in between.”

This article was originally posted on IIR’s Front End of Innovation as Innovation is Seeing the Invisible.

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