Innovation occurs when we creatively connect ideas in new and novel ways. If we are trying to differentiate ourselves, or our organisation, we need to be able to do this well. One way to approach this is to consciously seek out viewpoints and information that we normally wouldn’t encounter, or which conflict with our normal world view.
I was reminded of this again when I read Ethan Zuckerman’s post today on media tracking. He revisits some of his ideas about the importance of getting news from multiple sources. In particular he is interested in making sure that there is good cross-border flow of news and ideas, and in this post he talks about some strategies for tracking how well you are doing in this regard.
One of the tools that he talks about is the twitter map tool developed by MMMeeja. It shows you the location of people that you follow (limited to those that have actually indicated a mappable location). Here’s mine:
So one method that we can use is to make sure that we are actively participating in information sharing with people that come from different backgrounds and locations than us. I’d like to be following a few more people from Africa and Asia – there’s definitely a gap there for me – at least on twitter.
There are some other ways we can seek out conflicting views. We can read blogs from people with different political beliefs, or with different cultural interests. We can go to talks on topics that we don’t know anything about. I went to a really interesting one on fashion a couple of weeks ago, and at the last conference that I went to, I made sure that in at least half of the sessions I went to something that was in a research area in which I’ve never worked. We can read magazines that cover things with which we’re unfamiliar.
All of those ideas are relatively passive too, so if you are a bit of an introvert like me, they will all work. If you’re more extroverted, you can seek out people from different backgrounds and talk to them. There are a number of ways that we can broaden the range of ideas we encounter – and doing this is a good way to increase our ability to innovate.
What do we do with this diverse information once we’ve figured out how to access it? Here are some thoughts from Roger Martin:
His basic argument is that we need to be able to hold conflicting ideas in our heads and work on finding ways to approach them integratively. This is part of his design-thinking methodology.
To generate creative new ideas, we need to connect existing ideas in a novel way. One way to do this is to expose ourselves to ideas that we wouldn’t normally come across. I’ve included a few suggestions here, but what other methods do you recommend?