One of my influences has been the work of Edward de Bono, the creator of Lateral Thinking. His work has empowered many people with the belief that ‘thinking is a skill’ and therefore we can do something to improve it. In relation to innovation he states, “we can analyze the past, however we must design the future.” The past exists, so we can analyze it. The future does not exist, so we can not analyze it. We can predict, plan, create scenarios, imagine, envision – all characteristics of innovation – however, we can not analyze the future. The creation of future possibilities lies in the world of innovation, not imitation.
Mindsets of Imitation or Innovation
All too often our education has an unfortunate emphasis on analysis. There seems to be an unhealthy focus on reduction rather than production, separation rather than synergy, and criticism rather than creativity. Analysis has its place and brings great value to existing situations however it has limited use in designing future possibilities. We must guard against a mindset that is driven
by analysis. Instead we can focus on training our mind to embrace production, synergy, and creativity: the focus of creating a mindset of innovation.
The Scale of Innovation
So imitation is not the same as innovation. Imitation is focused on the past. Innovation is focused on the future and works to either improve something that exists or create something new: Innovation has only two purposes, to improve something or create something new.
We can imagine a scale of innovation with ‘improvement’ on one side and ‘new’ on the other side. It is a scale that moves from evolution (improvement) to revolution (new). All activities on this scale are important. ‘Builders’ are needed to improve what exists and to make step-by-step innovations in our products and services. Likewise, ‘Pioneers’ are needed to create things that have not existed before and to offer revolutionary new products and services. Innovation is anything that steps of out the past and steps onto this spectrum of innovation.
It is important to note that while some people have a tendency to prefer ‘building’ or ‘pioneering’, most people have the ability to do both. Even the most conservative person, in the right environment, can have pioneering ideas.
A Mindset for the Future
Creating an Innovation Mindset starts then by understanding that imitation is not innovation and then actively placing our work somewhere on the scale between ‘improvement’ and ‘new’. Launching an improved model of a product can be an evolutionary move for growth and to penetrate deeper into emerging markets. However, a brand can only be revolutionary if develops an Innovation Mindset.
So to stimulate a mindset for the future, you can ask:
How much of my work is about improving and how much is about creating something new? How many of my daily tasks focus on ‘building‘ or ‘pioneering’?