Innovation is all about creating purposeful change in an entity’s potential. We know an organization can integrate specific systems designed to spark innovation. But what if innovation truly begins in the individual mind?
On the human level, innovation can simply be a way of thinking.
It’s encouraging to remember that we can train our minds and form new habits through daily practice. A brighter smile results from the habit of brushing teeth. A metabolism can be sped by consistent workouts. In the same vein, if you want to be a more innovative thinker, you can cultivate an innovative outlook through habit; by grooming your mind, you can train innovative thought patterns.
Innovative thinkers tend to go quite far in this world, so why not give it a shot? Here are a few things to practice each day. Remember, it works best if you stack your new practice immediately after an already solidified habit. If you always make coffee in the morning, establish your new practice by sitting down with that coffee to complete it.
1. Connect with mystery
Take between 15 minutes and one hour each day to develop an interest and understanding for something which is outside your field of work or expertise. The benefits of stepping outside your comfort zone are unlimited––it challenges you to think in new ways, sharpens your mind, and helps you draw connections that might have been invisible to you before. If you want to take it a step further, explore a subject in which there is still much to be discovered.
Thomas Kuhn explains that the areas in life where all the fundamental questions have been answered can appear boring, and do not move people by the extrinsic and intrinsic fulfillment that results from contributing to important problems.
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2. Substitute a "how"
Re-experience a simple action in your day by doing it differently. If you have a typical running route, go the other way. Instead of making your coffee in the machine, try a French press.
Example: Choosing to wash something by hand instead of in the machine enables you to feel its texture, how it absorbs detergent, and how long it takes to rinse. When you interact with a process you’re normally disconnected with on a more sensory level, you begin to understand it differently. You’ll also end up facing a chain reaction of accommodating problems to solve, i.e. you might need to create additional space to lay the article of clothing out. You’ll learn how long it takes to dry, and if the fabric feels different after washing it by hand than how it normally feels from the washer/dryer. Experiencing something in a different way begets deeper understanding of a process, creates room for fresh problem-solving, and flexes a crucial muscle in innovative thinking. Consider the existing solutions to the problem––in this case a washing machine. Can you imagine an alternative innovation to the washing machine that’s more effective?
3. Train your eye––see the "suck"
Today innovation typically trends toward creating seamlessness in a process that is universally inconvenient to go through. Example: Fitness startup “Splitfit” recognized that hiring a personal trainer can be costly, intimidating, and a hassle to keep up with. They also spotted the surplus of trainers who had the bandwidth and desire to take on more clients, but were constantly sitting around in the gym with extra time on their hands. Based on these observations, they were able to build a digital business solution that created an opportunity for people to workout together with a personal trainer, simultaneously attaining the benefits of a social experience, affordability, and the convenience of fluidity in training times.
If you keep a journal, you can practice “seeing the suck” by identifying one example per day of a process that could use an efficiency upgrade. Once you build the habit of recognizing friction, your imagination will kick in with possible solutions, most likely without you even having to think about it.
Innovation is a big deal––nearly the whole world’s chipping away at it one way or another. But as the prima ballerina begins her training with only a slight bend in the knees, so can we innovators begin ours with a gentle flex of the mind.