The Secret to Innovation

Everyone wants to be more innovative in their work and tasks.  In a way, we think that when we are innovative we will get a competitive edge, and enhance our success.  And, in a way, this is true. Innovative people and companies do tend to be more successful.

So when I saw Walter Isaacson's new book, "The Innovators" I scooped it right up. You might remember, that Isaacson did the biography on Steve Jobs, and has penned a number of excellent works, mostly biographies, of innovative folks; Franklin, Einstein and the like.

The book is a fascinating account of the innovation of the personal computer, from its conceptualization, back in 1837, to its current impact on our lives today. Isaacson does a great job highlighting the various junctions of innovation and how these steps unfolded.  For me, 2 powerful insights occurred as I read this book, and both seem to be clearly aligned with innovation, no matter your field or how you want to see it applied.

One is that innovation takes time.  That is, each key step in the development of the personal computer, from the transistor, to microprocessor, and others, took, in some cases, years to initiate. That notion of the "ah ha" moment is often diluted with slow, and tedious efforts leading up to it. In a way, the "overnight success" theory is a myth.

And the other insight, and myth, is that innovation has been romanticized to appear as a solo activity.  The notion of one man/woman, in a garage by themselves, coming up with a new product, is also not how it happens.  Indeed, it appears that innovation is the product of social capital, where ideas get batted around by friends, associates, allies, competitors, and the like. As collections of people hear, react, challenge, cajole, or opine on ideas, they mature and get molded into something better.

So, no matter your field or area, remember these 2 things.  One is that you keep moving forward and understand that the innovation process takes time; and you must share, compare, and listen closely to others as they comment.  These are the ingredients that can change the world.