It’s really astounding how many people I meet who tell me, “I’m not creative” or “I wasn’t born an innovator.” How many times have you told yourself this story? No matter how convinced you may be that you are not creative or you were not meant to change the world, I believe that EVERYONE is a born innovator! The simple fact that you have grown up and learned how to be an adult in this world means you have already gone through a process of continual innovation – and creating something totally new is often a matter of recapturing that mindset.
Learning to innovate is not about acquiring a new skill. In fact, it’s re-learning the skills you have had since birth. Observe small children: they are constantly innovating. Give them a carrot and it’s a spaceship, a fish, a microphone, a crayon. It’s a hundred things because a child’s mind is unconditioned by rigid definitions such as — “This is a carrot and only a carrot.”
Working with children reveals the depths of their capacity for innovation and spontaneous creativity. The mind of a child is a realm of endless possibilities, no matter what the task at hand. And, whether or not you remember, you, too once viewed the world with the eyes of a child.
Innovating is natural, but nobody said it was easy. Some children are easily discouraged, while others are not bothered by failure. Every time we correct a child for coloring “outside the lines,” or tell a child to “stop asking so many questions,” or tell them, “That’s a stupid question,” we are squashing their natural capacity for innovation!
Every time management overrides someone for not having an answer on the spot, every time an employer overlooks a candidate because she hesitated…our self-perception as un-creative people who are unable to innovate is reinforced.
How many of your innovative ideas never took off? Or how many new approaches were shot down by your boss?
What was the “takeaway” lesson from failed innovations?
Learning to face our failures and take them as useful lessons allows us to continue “drawing outside the lines” without losing confidence in ourselves.
Ask Questions and Test Limits
What is the one thing every four-, five-, and six-year-old does flawlessly, perfectly and incessantly? They ask questions! Everything is a question: What is that? What does this do? What if I press this button? Why is the sky blue? Why are apples crunchy? Why do I have to wear shoes? Not only are children at this age learning and absorbing information, they are figuring out limits and boundaries through their questioning. “How many questions can I ask before mama doesn’t know the answer?”
Asking questions opens up new possibilities. When our first attempts at innovation fail, don’t keep trying the same thing over and over again. Try something different! Ask as many questions as you can think of, and you will find your ideas becoming less trite and more relevant, less ambiguous and more specific. When you are done, review your questions, watching for where you are testing boundaries and finding (or surpassing) limitations.
“Why didn’t my idea take off?”
“What if my innovation is not accepted by everyone?”
“How many different ways can my innovation fail?”
“What is holding me back from taking the next step?”
Take Full Advantage of the Drawing Board
One obvious way that children test limits is with their questions, but they’re also testing, poking, prodding, and experimenting all the time, because that’s the nature of being a child. They’ll probably make a few mud pies that aren’t quite the right consistency before they’re satisfied, and so will you, metaphorically.
You have already jumped into the deep end of innovating – maybe head first. Sometimes it takes a radical departure from the status quo to discover your true talent as an innovator, but that approach is not without its pitfalls. Confidence is good – and necessary – but if you’re overly confident you may end up biting off more than you can chew. Many “newly minted” innovators act as if they have quick answers, or try out any crazy new idea without thinking about the consequences.
That’s why it’s important to take full advantage of the planning stage when trying out a new idea, and “prototype” it – even if it’s not an actual physical product. It’s about blending impulse (“Wouldn’t that be a great new way of doing things?”) with forethought (“How can I test whether it would actually work?”).
Think big, but start small, with individual pieces of the puzzle and tests to see if your idea is feasible. Prototyping is a crucial step toward any big new product or practice – it’s a rare person who gets it right on the very first try. It’s important to have confidence in your ideas, but it’s equally important to be able to identify potential problems before going all out, and that’s what the prototyping stage is for.
Innovation is not for the weak of heart, and not for people who can’t take rejection. Failure after failure teaches you a little more about how your ideas could be more effective, more specific, more relevant.
But remember, you’ve already done the hard part: you’ve grown up, learned about the world, and become a self-sufficient adult. Learning to innovate is really re-learning your natural child-like wonder and curiosity about everything.
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