To innovate, get out!

To innovate it is useful to know something about the topic. Picasso was a painter before founding the cubist movement, sir Godfrey Hounsfield was an electrical engineer before creating the CT Scanner.

Paradoxically, as Thomas S. Kuhn demonstrates in The structure of scientific revolutions, innovation usually comes from people on the outer edge of their field, as opposed to the core establishment who are mentally and emotionally over-invested in the dominant paradigm. Metaphorically, think of a field of blue flowers adjacent to a field of red flowers. Where are we more likely to see the emergence of a new species of purple flowers? At the edge between the two fields, not at the centre of one or the other.

This does not mean that experts at the core of their domain cannot innovate. Contrary to flowers, people can move! But the lesson from the flower fields is that people who want to innovate have to take pro-active steps to expose themselves to provocation, to different viewpoints, to opportunities to connect the dots. Attending fairs and conferences in another domain than their own, meeting prospects (as opposed to established customers), getting back to school to study a different subject, are examples of such steps.

However, getting out as an evangelist of one’s own expertise is not going to create much opportunity for creativity. The attitude of the experts getting out of their field has to be one of humility, receptivity and willingness to learn while most people look up to them as teachers.

  1. January 29, 2010 at 16:19

    This was stated perfectly! I cannot tell you how many times I have worked with organizations that want to bring new ideas to the table but the people they hire to do this are internal players with years of experience about the “business”. The Fringe is where you will find actionable and profitable ideas that can transform or reinvent a business. Not to say that internal resources cannot produce innovative concepts; they can and should, but working on a brainstorming session for a new manufacturing process should not just include manufacturing engineers. The dude in marketing will can add a simple spin that may really get the team to say “wow- That’s too easy” and easy is what makes it perfect.

    • January 29, 2010 at 18:57

      Thanks for your comment Mays. Easy (or simple for that matter) is an Art.


  1. January 22, 2011 at 17:51
  2. March 30, 2013 at 18:24
  3. June 23, 2013 at 14:10
  4. July 19, 2013 at 12:08

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