Innovation requires diversity and courage
Ever since we were small, we have been trained and educated to think in a certain way. When we choose a career, we also decide (albeit perhaps unconsciously) on a mental model and a particular way of thinking and doing things. We are influenced by our parents, or our peer group; the professional success or failure of our families; tennis, English or piano lessons. Everything we have done leads us to the inevitable conclusion that we are what we think.
I would like to define innovation as the capacity to do things differently, but with a purpose. I could accept that it is more or less easy to define a goal. But changing, thinking differently, doing things a different way, is simply fighting against years of learned habits.
This is why any exercise that helps us to move out of our comfort zone sounds so attractive to those of us who like change and transformation. We love the challenge of having to put linear thinking to one side in order to find alternative paths that might lead to the same end or an unexpected one.
But that cannot be considered innovation, at least not in its purest state. Nor is innovation subject to the number of new terms we can memorize or the number of times we repeat that we are innovators. Claiming to be disruptive because we can use ‘big data’ or ‘Artificial Intelligence’ in a sentence, explain to someone that technology is the future or prepare a presentation on the transformation of the labor world is more a mechanism of over-adaptation to avoid feeling out of a reality that we have probably not quite understood.
“When you listen to and watch someone who thinks differently, you discover that the boundaries of the universe are further away, and if you observe an entire team, you discover that the boundaries are inventions of the bias that leads us to be how we are and think how we think”
Nobody wants to be left behind in the past or recognize that they feel comfortable there. But the problem is that beyond any effort that we might make to approach innovation, we will never really manage to reach different results unless we can think differently. Most likely, we will reach the same end, perhaps with certain nuances along the way.
I shall illustrate this as follows: I could write this text ten times, paraphrase each line, or try to write at night or in the daytime. And I might get it to sound different. But in the end, the result would be the same. The effect that my words produce on you would not be very different. I do not mean to imply by this that we cannot learn, but that we are what we are and should accept this without denying it. Only by accepting it will we be able to start to understand that the effect we can cause is limited and restricted to how we think. And that change, true profound change, comes when we add something that we do not already have.
In the late sixties, Art Fry, a chemist at 3M, used to sing in the church choir on Sundays. He used little pieces of paper to mark the pages of the psalm book, though they usually ended up falling onto the floor when he opened the book. One day he remembered that his colleague Spencer Silver had invented a glue so bad that it did not stick anything and was discarded by the company. The problem was that the glue came unstuck easily and did not even damage or leave any traces on a piece of paper. Fry started to experiment with a view to using it on his paper page-markers and making them self-adhesive. This was the origin of the Post-It, which gave rise, no less, to almost 4,000 derivative products now put on the market by 3M.
A talented, capable person has a good chance of doing great things. But nothing compared with two talented, capable people. And less still than a team. The wonderful thing about bringing together diverse profiles is how the world grows. When you listen to and watch someone who thinks differently, you discover that the boundaries of the universe are further away, and if you observe an entire team, you discover that the boundaries are inventions of the bias that leads us to be how we are and think how we think.
“A talented, capable person has a good chance of doing great things. But nothing compared with two talented, capable people. And less still than a team”
There is no reason to believe that the possibilities are limited, that what we know or understand is all there is. Try getting an engineer and a painter to talk about the origin of the universe. Get the engineer to paint, or the painter to calculate the strength of a material. I don’t know whether either of them will be successful, but that is the least of it.
Innovation should not be the purpose, but the means. Those of us who work in communication and contribute to the profession from any aspect should gather around a table a number of diverse profiles such as data experts, developers, psychologists, some young, others experienced, beginners and experts, enthusiastic and skeptical. We know what to do when a customer calls us; what we do not know is how much we still have to learn.
Without a variety of profiles, we will never really know whether that idea we have in mind, albeit rather vague, is possible until we test it. Innovation is a balm that can relieve monotony, exhaustion or too much responsibility.
But we have to be brave to innovate. We must accept that we might be uncomfortable; tolerate others challenging our beliefs; force ourselves to face up to our worst fears. It is a laborious, difficult, long and winding process, but in the end, it feels so good to discover that there are no limits, that we are really free, that every minute of that struggle is worth it.
Put a diverse team of people to work, set them a goal, and innovation will be guaranteed.
“Innovation is a balm that can relieve monotony, exhaustion or too much responsibility”