You can’t escape a process (not even for innovation)

Working for Tektronix has given me the great opportunity of meeting Tom Buzak and attending one of his speech on Innovation he delivered during my last trip to US.
The idea was not trying to define innovation as a concept, as an idea, or as a state-of-mind like most of the motivational books you can find on library shelves.
The speech focused mostly on discussing whether a process, a set of best practices, or in his words a “framework” can be applied for innovation. Can intentional or even systematic innovation exist?
Thinking back on his past great ideas and outstanding breakthrough concepts, Tom tried to verify a sort of logical path, a sort of process than was common to anything jumped out of his mind and got to a real success.
I will not give you the recipe here (search his speech and dedicate it one hour), but I’d like to share what remained in my mind and similarities with my personal experience.
Going back to the past, precisely four years ago, I was sitting in the living room of one of my best friends in Turin. We decided to meet just to …create. It was our “first innovative dinner”…and night.
We were looking for a great idea to innovate an already innovative thing at that time: a smartphone.
Smartphones were rapidly coming up with their fantastic MEMS and we wanted to use their capabilities to create a totally new way of using it. After several hours (and headache), we had a “napkin” sketch of our idea. This pity the morning after we found out on the web that our idea already existed, and had a name: “augmented reality”.
I clearly remember how difficult it was to control and guide our minds to prevent them jumping to the “how” when the intention was defining the what. Formulating questions, defining the box other than thinking outside the box was very much difficult.
Our mind is unfortunately shaped by experience and environment and social habits so that it’s difficult to look beyond the existent. Philosophers say creativity it’s a way to escape the fact that we are slaves, dominated by a reality we cannot control. Did we get too used to our chains to forget how to break them? Or was it something else?
Now I learned from Tom that we actually needed some “discipline”, some guidance, but with a different flavor. We needed constraints like pillars to work around and reshape our mind. But definitely we needed them. Without (apparent) steady points you may get lost in the sea of possibilities.
We might have the power to influence our own mind (can we?) but definitely we cannot stretch it indefinitely. It may be dangerous too. More simply, we just must take care of the instrument and not simply playing it. And to take care of it rules may help. Not following them…just, considering they are there.. Maybe modern jazz players do that, or maybe not 🙂
In order to change the focus on our problem we had to fix some limits, and so we did. Then, playing around these barriers we adapted and reshaped our concept so that we did not even thought the smartphone as a smartphone but as “that thing to handle” for doing what we dreamed. But it remained something real, requiring power supply, sensors etc…
Coming to a conclusion, innovation probably does not come from an apple hitting your head or waking up in the middle of the night. That’s probably luck if it happen, but our mind does not work this way. We have to “think properly” to innovate. And several other things.
Sometimes I laugh when I hear people scared of talking about their project, which is nothing but than a “very lightly baked idea”, because they want to keep it secret waiting for the future money to come.
Creating the right environment for discussion and for sharing ideas is fundamental. Maybe ideas are the real link that can connect all of us. So welcome to any group and initiative for sharing ideas, but more important share your best practices on “the proper way to think for innovation”, try to compare each other the point where your mind stick, falls or jumps over. And make it so that any new meeting is a chance to move further, to refine your “little baby” and not just blinding talking and waiting for your lucky chance. Love your constraints, as they are defining the resonance frequency for the sound you are searching for. And love your goal. Make it useful for others, make it something we all can benefit from, not just you and your wallet.
Because otherwise it will not be not innovation, but just the story of human being so far.


5 responses to “You can’t escape a process (not even for innovation)

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