Innovation has been innovated.
As the concept and topic of innovation has increased in popularity over the last decade, the world has seen many novel and imaginative new ideas emerge about how to create, harness, encourage and source innovation. Having spent my professional life researching, investigating and practicing creative problem solving techniques, it’s a development I find deeply encouraging.
Linus Pauling once said, “The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas,” and I think the field of innovation has benefitted from our collective insights and visions. One of the most interesting developments has been the concept of crowdsourcing, which is based on that very concept of maximizing the brainpower focused on solving a problem.
The concept has been successfully commercialized, with organizations like Innocentive setting themselves up to link people with problems to people with the ideas that might be potential solutions. And so far as crowdsourcing generates a large number of interesting, creative ideas, I’m a big fan.
But we also need to recognize that generating a long list of neat ideas is not innovation. It is not creative problem solving. It’s just a long list of neat ideas. And while I certainly agree with Pauling that good ideas are more likely to be buried in a long list than a short one, the list is really only the first step to providing an innovative solution to a real problem. Like many of the other ‘innovation tools’ that have been generated in recent years, crowdsourcing has some interesting uses, but also some serious limitations.
The most successful creative problem solving arises from a proactive, ongoing, change-making, innovation process. The process begins with discovering problems and ends with action, leading into another round of discovering problems. Generating that long list of neat ideas is only one step in the process.
Equally important to the concept of innovative is that the process be used as a daily behavior by people with the necessary skills, tools and understanding to make it work. It isn’t enough to be creative when it’s problem solving time. Innovation comes about when people have adopted creative problem solving behaviors that are integrated into their daily lives and part of their regular habits, routines and activities.
It’s wonderful that we’re all talking about innovation. But my research has found that talking alone doesn’t cut it. The real key is a continuous process of problem finding, solving and implementing, supported by essential attitudinal, behavioral and cognitive skills.