Don’t ask the analytical mind to spot innovation opportunities
Let me start with a confession: I was tempted to write ‘why the analytical mind cannot innovate’. That would have been a more provocative title, something crisper and more catchy when it goes on twitter, but it would have been contrary to my beliefs and values. For I believe that there is a place for the analytical mind in the innovation team.
Yet, there is also little doubt that the analytical mind may indeed struggle with one of the roles at the forefront of the innovation endeavour: the observer.
An innovation, often start with an observation. The observer – the one that Tom Kelley calls anthropologist – spots a behaviour, a way of doing things, a situation that everyone else considers to be normal because it is habitual, which, on reflection, proves to be unproductive, unpleasant, uncomfortable. A famous example is the observation that picking up a slobbery ball in the mud and throwing it away for your dog to fetch again and again can become an unpleasant activity if you have back problems, if you’re not good at throwing, or if you don’t like to smear your pretty leather gloves with dog saliva. Yet, until someone made that observation, which led to the invention of the ball-thrower, everyone would have thought that there was no other way, that this indeed was the normal and even ‘the right way’ of doing things.
Typically, the analytical mind won’t make a great observer of such anomalies, for it will instantly decompose the data it receives, tag each piece with the appropriate label, and put all pieces in their rightful boxes, sometimes with a quick fix:
- gravity dictates that you have to pick up the ball, and you can always bend your knees if you can’t bend your back,
- unless your dog is very small you have to throw the ball to some distance for the dog to exercise and have fun, and you can always throw by swinging your arm in a pendulum arc if you can’t do it the baseball way,
- of course the ball will get wet, but you can have a special pair of gloves for those occasions when you take your dog out to play fetch.
No problem. Even if it does not go as far as claiming that ‘you should not have a dog if you can’t play with it’, the analytical mind practices a form of ‘judgmentalism’ in the sense that it is quick to categorise the data. And once every piece of data has been put in its rightful box, well, there is nothing that looks like an anomaly, is there? The innovation opportunity has been missed.
The analytical mind can still take part in the innovation endeavour. Indeed, it will prove essential in other roles in the innovation team such as the experimenter or the implementer. Just don’t give it the job to spot the innovation opportunities.