Learning Nugget 21 - Innovation is just Connecting Dots
There are plenty of stories of brilliant, world changing light bulb and eureka moments where a new invention was bought unto the world after an unremarkably insignificant event or situation.
These laying down reading glasses, or Hamblin Glasses (otherwise known as Bed Prism Glasses) were invented in 1936. By "connecting the dot" of a military submarine periscope to address a problem that still exists today. How to read lying down.
OK, so maybe lying down reading glasses aren’t world changing, but it highlights an example that often the best ideas come from weird, non conventional, unexpected sources.
Here is a wonderful short article (approximately 3-4 min read) from Beth Comstock of GE.
The good bits:
Crossovers are what happen when an invention, idea, or body of knowledge in one field jumps into another — and the result is a quantum leap of progress
The lesson: if you’re not making room for the unexpected meeting of minds, you could be missing out on the next big breakthrough.
Visionary leaders understand this.
I’ve spent a lot of time in my career “connecting the dots,” seeing connections between seemingly unlike things, learning from people with experiences very different from my own, and putting together elements in unexpected ways to make something new.
Here’s an exercise for you: Challenge yourself. Next time you’re in the airport newsstand, pick up an obscure magazine and connect a new idea or theme to something you know
John Hagel and John Seely Brown of Deloitte Center for the Edge, describe this type of exploration, and others Innovation at the Edge. So what’s the Edge ? Here’s how they describe it:
Edges are powerful sources of business innovation because they are places of potential and friction, where traditional products and practices are no longer adequate to address unmet needs or unexploited potential. Much tinkering and experimentation occurs on the edge, as well as heated debate about the most promising options to address emerging needs, intensified by the diverse backgrounds, skill sets, and perspectives of participants gathering on the edge. By playing a part in this experimentation, companies participate in rich flows of new knowledge, flows that are the primary sources of innovation.
Edges tend to be risky places: There are no well-established road maps. Order, to the extent it exists, routinely dissolves into chaos, only to reform again in a very different pattern. Market meltdowns and business failures are commonplace. Relationships form quickly on the edge, because people have less confidence in going it alone and are more inclined to seek out others to help them sort through the challenges and share the risks and opportunities created by edges.
A couple of other factors make edges particularly fertile grounds for innovation. Edges tend to attract risk-takers, so there are a lot of people on the edge who are not only open to ideas, but more willing to act on them, even if they haven’t been tested yet. At the same time, there are few entrenched interests or legacy assets on the edge, so there are few resistance points ready to impede those who want to try something different. Bottom line – there’s less inertia on the edge.
Edges have always been a seedbed for innovation, but there is something different now. Edges are folding back in on the core much more rapidly than ever before. Think of the telecom industry – it wasn’t so long ago that wireless networks were a minor edge to the wireline networks. Now, many younger customers only own a cell phone and are somewhat puzzled about why anyone would own a fixed line phone. Voice communication used to be the core of all telecom networks but now data has become the core of network traffic.
So, there is an even more compelling reason to participate on the edge. If the edge becomes the core, edge advantage soon becomes core advantage. Those who remain focused on the core risk being blindsided by new forms of advantage that emerge first on the edge. To use another meaning of edge, participating successfully on the edge will be essential to developing and sustaining a strategic edge.
The bottom line
To reduce this to a simple formula:
Edge = Innovation = Edge
When you think about the opportunities, or problems your clients are seeking to address, or the jobs their customers are trying to do. Are you connecting dots, looking and exploring in unconventional places for inspiration, are you operating at the edge ? Or are you merely applying your narrow perspective ?