synthesis & connecting

Jeffrey Phillips writes a really nice innovation blog called Innovate on Purpose. One of his recent posts concerns the importance of synthesis, where he says:

What should be obvious is that one of the most important skills from an innovation perspective is the act and insight of synthesis.

This is a real challenge, because most people are taught to break down problems into smaller, finite pieces and solve the smaller problems. We also work as specialists, with deep understanding of our core capabilities and knowledge, but often with little insights or knowledge beyond our education or jobs. So most people don’t use synthesis skills on a regular basis, and are probably prone to avoiding synthesis since synthesis requires introducing a number of new and possibly unknown factors which may simply make the problem larger and more difficult.

He then goes on to discuss areas in which synthesis is useful, including research at the start of an innovation project, and in doing customer research. Phillips also recommends looking for people with skills in synthesis if you are trying to identify innovators within your organisation.

This reinforces my idea about the importance of connecting. Synthesis is simply (well, actually, it’s complex) combining various observations and figuring out how they relate to each other. I’ve been saying all along that connecting is one of the key skills that is essential to innovation, so it’s nice to see that point supported elsewhere.

Blog News: Two interesting things happened with the blog yesterday. The first is that our traffic has now gotten high enough that google analytics classifies this is a medium sized website rather than a small one. The second is that I was one of the winners in a blogging contest at Blogging Innovation. In light of those two events, I thought it would be a good time to thank everyone that reads the blog, that tweets about it, that makes a comment or that recommends the blog to a friend or colleague. Thanks very much for your support!

Student and teacher of innovation - University of Queensland Business School - links to academic papers, twitter, and so on can be found here.

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5 thoughts on “synthesis & connecting

    • It is pretty cool Sam! Although, I’ll miss the days of looking at the benchmark stats on google analytics and seeing that our visits and pageviews are 7000% above average… :-)

  1. Tim,

    I agree with Phillips’s assessment. In a similar vein, I read Ernest Boyer who identifies four domains of scholarship in university teaching and research: a scholarship of discovery, a scholarship of integration (or synthesis), a scholarship of application and a scholarship of teaching.

    Current research practices disproportionately favour the scholarship of discovery (meanwhile the bean counters really like scholarships of applications). The scholarship of integration and synthesis rarely gets a look in.

    I think this is also true for innovation outside of academia. There’s gold in them there hills.

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