Home > For the sailors: Hone your innovation skills > Rely on accident or prepare for luck

Rely on accident or prepare for luck

Mark Twain said: “Name the greatest of all inventors: accident.” Almost 2,000 years earlier Seneca had said: “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity”.  You can choose to be a Twain follower and passively rely on accident to come up with an innovation, or you can be a Seneca follower and prepare your field to receive the seed of opportunity that will grow into your innovation.

An essential aspect of preparation for innovation is the organisation of knowledge. I will come back in another post to what managers and leaders can do to foster it; in this post I want to concentrate on what individuals can do to organise their own knowledge.

First, recognise that to be able to connect two dots, both have to be present to mind. Dot connection does not happen in drawers or hard drives; it happens in the mind. Since the typical dot connection happens between one piece of knowledge that we have and one piece of observation that we make, it appears that one’s knowledge has to be at – or close to – the forefront of one’s mind, as opposed to buried on a computer hard drive. The hard drive can hold all sorts of details that may indeed prove useful later in the innovation process, but the essence of knowledge has to be present in the mind, for it is in the mind that the connection happens.

Then, how do we distill the enormous quantity of data that we receive – and store on the hard drive – into the essence of knowledge that we are going to keep alive in our mind? Here are a few techniques:
  • For visual learners: mind-mapping, drawing a picture, making a simple model (the 2×2 matrix is an all time classic that forces the learner to identify the two critical dimension of the subject and map the field accordingly);
  • For auditorty learners: creating a metaphor, identifying and story-telling a representative example;
  • For kinesthetic learners: putting the knowledge into practice immediately or, if not possible, acting it.

If knowledge is systematically captured and organised using one’s preferred learning modes and tools, it stands a much better chance of sticking to the mind and being readily accessible in the moment when the dot-connecting opportunity will present itself.

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