Most of the start-ups and large global companies that I work with, want to be more innovative. That leads to an interesting question: How are innovations generated? Is it through the work of a lone genius, with the storied ‘A-ha’ moment? Is innovation a personality trait that some people have and some people don’t, or can we all learn to be more innovative?
Throughout my career I have spent time working with innovators in science, technology, and business, and I have found that innovation is a skill that can be developed over time. It takes work and daily practice to be innovative. Imagine this: Thomas Edison kept 3,500 idea journals throughout his lifetime. What if we all started doing this every day – what new innovations could we come up with, if we treated innovation as a lifetime skill that we had to practice and work at, every day?
If you want to learn about some exercises that you can do, to exercise your innovation muscles, check out the book The Innovator’s DNA, by Clayton Christensen, Jeff Dyer, and Hal Gregersen. It lists the 5 traits of innovators, and has practical exercises that you can do every day to bring innovation into your daily life.
Here is a very brief summary of the 5 skills listed in the book, that are important for innovators. Each of these skills has an associated list of exercises that you can do, to exercise your innovation muscles in these areas:
- Associating: This is where most innovations come from: recombining two existing ideas to get a third unique idea.
- Questioning: Asking the right questions is more important than generating solutions, especially early on in the process. Ask questions and be inquisitive every day, and see what you can learn.
- Observing: Look around you and pay attention in life, and see what new ideas come from this simple process.
- Networking: Connect with a truly diverse group of people, through personal meetings, attending conferences, and searching out others with diverse backgrounds.
- Experimenting: Build and test your ideas as quickly and as inexpensively as possible, as there are great lessons to be learned by doing this.