Innovating by changing our thinking

A few weeks ago, I read Roger Martin's new book: The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage. It's stayed on my mind since in a way where I've realized what a great approach it offers to innovation. Here are the key ideas that stood out for me -- translated into my own way of conceptualizing creativity:

When we're making money, enjoying a success, or getting a job done, we're in a mode of exploitation. We're taking advantage of available resources, familiar situations and established routines to realize more of the same results. Improvements are within reach, but real innovations are not on the menu. To come up with breakthrough ideas, approaches and solutions, we need to switch modes from exploitation to exploration. We've got to move in the direction of unknowns and unfamiliar ground.

When we're exploiting a situation, we're either thinking deductively or inductively. We're moving from the general principle to the specific example or generalizing from the specific to the broader concept. In both cases we're dealing with truth, facts and proven approaches. We're on the safe ground of knowing what's what, what to expect and what happens after what. To innovate, our thinking shifts into abduction. We don't yet know what is true, factual or proven. We're thinking "I'll get back to you on that", "I'm finding out what works every time right now" or "I only know enough to look for the truth so far". We cannot move toward innovations by knowing what is true, only move toward what might be true which will be an innovation if it works.

When we're competing with rivals, we're improving what's already selling. We start from the premise of what's working and build on that. We come up with better ideas inside the box. We add new features and functionality to proven products and services. We don't have a better idea, we start from a different premise. We come at the entire business from a different angle and end up in a different place.

When we're good at producing results, we like to look over the metrics and identify improvement areas. We notice gaps in performance, inconsistencies in the data and trends to be turned around. When we're good at innovating, we like to stare a mystery in the face. We think like a kid again that does not know what this is or what to think about it. We are full of questions and enjoying being mystified by it. We sense there are secrets to be revealed by delving into it without jumping to conclusions before any clues are revealed to us.

Each of these ways of seeing the process of innovating and the adaptations to become more innovative invite us to change our thinking. We cannot be innovative with the thinking that proves to be productive.

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