Superconnect, the new book by Richard Koch and Greg Lockwood, includes this great quote from Denis Diderot in his Encyclopédie:
Everything is linked together… beings are connected with each other by a chain of which… some parts are continuous, though in the greater number of points continuity escapes us… the art of the philosopher consists in adding new links to the separated parts, in order to reduce the distance between them as much as possible.
I would say that this is also the art of the innovator – “to add new links to the separated parts, in order to reduce the distance as much as possible.”
This includes both of the connection steps – connecting ideas to each other (the source of novel new ideas), and then connecting ideas to people.
The thing that I particularly like about thinking about it in this way is that if you are innovating to reduce the distance between people, you are more likely to come up with things that are genuinely new, and more importantly, to come up with things that create genuine value.
Incremental improvements to existing things don’t do this. Instead, consider part of Umair Haque’s description of what makes Apple unique – their willingness to completely rethink existing categories:
Challenge products. Most companies make the same toothpaste, car, or shoe — just in a slightly different color or flavor. Not Apple. Every once in a while, it challenges the existing dominant design, the accepted ideal of what a product should be. That is, of course, the story of the iPad. Yes, tablets have been around for a while — but none with the features, attributes, and pricing of the iPad. Instead of contesting the same old stuff, Apple challenged everyone to rethink it.
That’s the art of the innovator. To create some artful innovation yourself, start thinking about how you can build those links.
(photo from flickr/Matti Mattila under a Creative Commons license)