Improve Your Personal Innovation Skills

In this week’s review of the posts that grabbed my attention, the main theme is: how can I be more innovative personally?

The first post comes from Jane Porter, who outlines 5 Ways to Be Inspired by Your Everyday Life.  She looks at ideas for improving our ability to notice things:

“Exploration happens best by accident, not by following a schedule,” says John Stilgoe, professor of the history of landscape at Harvard and author of the book, Outside Lies Magic.

And exploration is important because it goes hand in hand with creativity. “How does one learn to be creative?” Stilgoe asks in his book. “How does one develop the ability to produce lots of new ideas, to respond to problems easily and energetically?”

His answer: Go outside. Look around. Walk. Notice. “Exploration encourages creativity, serendipity, invention.”

James Altucher hits a similar message in The One Thing I Remind Myself of All Day – which is “stay curious.”  His key to doing this is to constantly ask “what if?”  I would say that a closely related question to ask yourself is “why not?”

Last weekend at TEDxUQ I met the author Kim Wilkins.  She gave an excellent talk, which led me back to her blog.  She’s writing consistently interesting stuff, and her most recent piece, Your Writing Fitness, uses exercise to illustrate some key points about doing creative work – and innovation is certainly creative work!

She outlines five things she’s learned about writing from the process of getting more fit.  You should check them all out – the first one is:

A 6-week binge won’t improve your skills measurably and permanently. You need to do a little every day if you want results. Think sustainable, not grandiose goals that won’t stick.

Creativity is a lot like exercise.  It’s an idea that Altucher consistently raises as well – he talks about exercising your idea muscle regularly.  Innovation is a skill that we can build – the best way to do it is to consistently practice at turning our ideas into reality.

Once you start cranking out ideas, what should you do with them?  Steven Johnson recommends keeping a spark file (h/t 99u).  Johnson writes down ideas, hunches, complete thoughts and just snippets into one unedited unified document, which he reviews regularly.

Here are some of the benefits that he outlines:

Needless to say, maintaining and re-reading a spark file is useful for more than just writers, but I think it’s a habit that is particularly suited to the special challenges of writing. I often find myself writing out full sentences of an argument or description, instead of just jotting down shorthand summaries, even though I don’t yet know where the sentences are ultimately going to appear. The key is to capture as many hunches as possible, and to spend as little time as possible organizing or filtering or prioritizing them. (Keeping a single, chronological file is central to the process, because it forces you to scroll through the whole list each time you want to add something new.) Just get it all down as it comes to you, and make regular visits back to re-acquaint yourself with all your past explorations. You’ll be shocked how many useful hunches you’ve forgotten.

I started doing this myself last December, and it’s been incredibly useful.  Try it!

The key to doing well with your ideas is to create value for people.  One very good way to do this is to figure out what is unique about you, your experiences and your viewpoint.  That is the issue that Justine Musk talks about in my favourite post of the week – don’t lose the snake: creativity, difference + the bold point of view.

The post is a transcript from a talk that she gave, and you really should go read all of it.  Here is a highlight:

The problem though is that creativity is all about difference, about designing your own category of one that lives beyond comparison, beyond competition. So as we learn to fit in, we also learn to think of ourselves as not creative. This is a massive untruth. As human beings we are innately creative, creativity is our birthright. But creativity is also a practice, and a lot of us just stop practicing it.

This is the problem with best practices. Not to mention, things change so rapidly that what worked two years or one year or even six months ago might not work now, or at least not for you. We can and should learn from best practices, but ultimately we have to express our ideas in a way that is unique and authentic to us while still being compelling and relevant to others.

It’s a talk packed with wisdom, and with good ideas.

Sidneyeve Matrix sums up many similar ideas in this excellent talk:

Once you get really good at doing all of this, if you’re working in a big organisation, you’ll need some help and support.  Or, you’ll at least need to know that you’re not the only one fighting the fights you find yourself in.

That’s why Peter vander Auwera helped put together the Corporate Rebels United website – so that you can learn from others in a similar position, and provide and receive support.  Learn more here.

In my weekly link to stuff from UnderCurrent, in my other favourite post of the week, Derrick Bradley talks about Leading Organizational Change with Culture.  As we discussed last week, we have to figure this out if we’re going to improve our innovation capabilities.

Here’s the fun graphic for the week:


See the big version here- Yanko Tsvetkov’s Atlas of Prejudice.  It’s a funny look at the cultural differences in Europe, but it brings up an important point: geography still matters.

You could make a similar map for North America.  Or for China.  Or for any large geography with a lot of people living in it.  One of key points that comes up in the collaborative projects that we do with Wharton is that when you try to increase your business in North America, there’s no such thing as entering “the American market.”

You have to enter one specific geographic chunk – the one where the people that care about what you do live.  When we worked with Lorna Jane, that place was Southern California.  In one of our current projects, it’s Houston.  Or maybe Calgary.

The second part of product-market fit is market.  There is still a strong geographic (and demographic) element to this – and it’s wise not to forget that.

Here’s one last thing for the week – a terrific talk from Kathryn Minshew on lessons she’s learned from starting a couple of businesses:

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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