Developing Your Innovation Muscle

12 May 2008 at 4:22 pm 4 comments

I just came across another interesting piece on innovation, in The New York Times business section, and it also references kaizen, the Japanese technique of small, incremental improvements, that just mentioned in a previous post on innovation. But this article focuses more on how to make changes in your thinking and your way of approaching problems, challenges and new information, in order to foster innovation and creative flexibility.

“The first thing needed for innovation is a fascination with wonder,” says Dawna Markova, author of The Open Mind. “But we are taught instead to decide…and to decide is to kill off all possibilities but one. Innovation is…exploring the many other possibilities.”

Markova and her partner M.J. Ryan the executive consulting firm Professional Thinking Partners work with what they call three zones of existence: comfort, stretch and stress. Comfort is all your existing thought patterns and processes; stress is when a challenge is so far beyond your current experiences as to be overwhelming; but stretch-where new activities feel awkard, unfamiliar, but interesting-is where true change occurs.

“Whenever we initiate change, even a positive change, we activate fear in our emotional brain,” writes Ryan in her book This Year I Will… “If the fear is big enough, the fight-or-flight response is set off and we’ll run from what we’re trying to do. The small steps in kaizen don’t set off that instinctive response.” Instead you keep thinking, wondering and innovating.

This idea of continuous mental stretching also turns out to be good for your health. Researchers who asked study participants to do something different every day-listen to a new radio station, park their car in a different spot-found that they lost and kept off weight.

As creative professional we’re used to applying this kind of thinking to our client issues…how to disguise an awkward window, unify an odd space, we’re always searching for something new, interesting, innovative and inspiring. But we’re quick to fall into habitual patterns within our own business.

So, take a look around at your business and your business habits. Do you see any small, gradual changes you’d like to make? Let us know.

Entry filed under: Design Economy, Innovation. Tags: , .

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Jeremy Nulik  |  12 May 2008 at 5:22 pm

    I can see habits that I would love to break all around me. A spiritual friend of mine taught me an exercise that I think is applicable to almost any area of life.

    He told me to tell myself: Today, I will look at (insert object), in a new way.

    This seems hokey at first, but it begins to work on your psyche a bit. Instead of seeing my problems as I always have, I attempt to understand their importance or relevance to my development in business and life. This begins to form new habits or ways of thinking.

    Great post and great food for thought.

  • 2. Linda H. Bassert  |  2 June 2008 at 8:39 pm

    When it comes to habits, and changes needed, I first am reminded of the old Pogo cartoon,”we have met the enemy and he is us!”. Many of our worst habits are rooted in our strengths. The person who has great concentration for a task may also be the person who is oblivious to subtle hints or signs of something on the periphery, while the person who has a great radar for those hints or small signs may also be very distractable. In a creative field, it is easy to focus on ideas and new possibilities while ignoring the elephant in the room – the one that says – this part of your business isn’t working well.
    And sometimes personal circumstances that cannot be controlled, or which are rooted outside of yourself, are the ones greatly affecting your performance. Nevertheless, the take it one small step, one improvement at a time approach is eventually going to lead you out of where you are to where you want to be, if you also take time to look at the long term picture and know where you want to end up. Without goals, small steps could just lead you in a circle.
    And I always reach back to a quote by a very successful businessman, Rich DeVos, when I’m overwhelmed: overcome the negative by doing the positive. I may not be able to do everything, but I can do something.
    Thank you for the post – even though I found it some weeks after it was posted, it was very timely for me.

  • 3. Doubleheader  |  19 June 2008 at 8:57 am

    Somehow i missed the point. Probably lost in translation 🙂 Anyway … nice blog to visit.

    cheers, Doubleheader!!

  • 4. catchthevision  |  31 July 2008 at 2:39 pm

    Thanks for this thought provoking blog with its clear wisdom and advice.

    I’ve been wondering, and blogging, about the relationship between innovation and mistakes, and whether there could be benefits for organisations to have a specific ‘Mistakes Policy’.

    The idea has been well received so far but, with you specialist expertise, can I ask what you think? (If this is an intrusion, please forgive me.)



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May 2008

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