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The 2nd Biggest Secret to Innovation

  • October 10, 2012

  • Part two of Rob Wright, Chief Editor of Life Science Leaders, blog.

    Jon Platt, healthcare sector leader for ?WhatIf! Innovation, conducted a presentation at the Conference Forum’s ( 2nd Annual Disruptive Innovation to Advance Clinical Trials for Pharma, Biologics & Devices conference in Boston. He provided the two biggest secrets to innovation – the first can be found here. Here is the second.

    As human beings, we learn to make assumptions based on past experiences. These are skills we learn and hone, but they can also impede innovative thinking. The following is how Platt describes the inhibiting effect of making assumptions . Every experience we have is like a drop of rain on a mountain. As rain hits and runs down a mountain, it creates streams, and rivers. Over time, these rivers and streams change the shape of the mountain, and become the way by which rain water naturally flows down the mountain. For people, over time, experiences impact how we think, and why, when a new idea is proposed, you will often hear naysayers respond with, “What have you been smoking?” So the second biggest secret to innovation that will get you out of that river of assumptions is to use a “stimulus.” A stimulus is any experience that is new to you or outside the boundaries of the problem you are dealing with. According to Platt, there are four R’s you can use to create a stimulus.

    R #1 – Related Worlds
    Related worlds involves looking at other areas where a similar issue or benefit can be seen, and borrowing those principles and applying them to your problem. For example, if you were looking to find techniques for reducing anxiety, where would you go? Psychiatrists? Psychologists? How about asking skydiving instructors how they go about reducing anxiety for first-time skydivers? When NASA was creating helmet technology, they looked to NASCAR initially, but eventually ended up borrowing ideas from helmets used by professional monster truck drivers who experience G-forces similar to that of astronauts. The point is — , look outside your industry for solutions to your problems and to create stimulus.

    R #2 – Revolution.
    Revolution involves identifying and then challenging the rules and assumptions we are using. In other words, are the rules really even rules. Many rules and assumptions aren’t even written down, but continue because “That’s just the way we do things around here.” To get out of this type of thinking, Platt recommends the following four tips. First, list the rules surrounding your challenges. Second, twist the rules. Third, ask yourself under what situation can these be bent or broken. Fourth, capture it with pictures, in writing, and create a “punchy” title.

    R #3 – Re-expression
    Re-expression is finding another way of describing or experiencing an issue or problem. For example, you have many other senses open to you which you used freely as a child, but conceal as an adult. Instead of using words, why not draw a picture to describe an issue, make a clay model, or even act out a physical representation of an issue or business process. Re-expression can be done using alternative words, different senses, or using someone else’s perspective. For example, if you are an adult responsible for creating a teen magazine, the focus isn’t on being a teen, but being cool, and accepted. The trick is to take a different perspective on how an alien, or a five-year-old might try to describe the problem.

    R #4 – Random Links
    Random links is the process of making connections and links between the issue and random items found in the world. It is the simple act of selecting, at random, a piece of stimulus that has nothing to do with your creative challenge and deliberately forcing a connection. There are only two rules to using this technique. One, the item must be truly random, and two, you must find a connection.

    If you want to learn more about how to create innovation, there are a variety of sources available. I found this link to a PDF entitled Sticky Wisdom –  to be helpful in providing a deeper understanding to Platt’s presentation.

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