Turn off autopilot mode in your brain.
Most people go through life with their brains on autopilot, unaware of interesting and different things that are going on around them all the time. When you do not see what’s going on around you, you don’t have the ideas and raw material input that is the essential first step for innovation.
So switch off autopilot mode, and pay attention!
Look for things that you wouldn’t normally notice because they work so well. It might be a system or process you are subjected to, or a product you use, or service you receive.
We notice when things don’t work well, and we get frustrated. We may feel like complaining, or returning something for a refund. So noticing what works is the opposite of noticing what frustrates you. In fact, sometimes your surprise at the lack of frustration when you do something is a great indicator of something working very well.
- You just bought something from a website and it was simple and easy. Why?
- You are queueing for a ticket, but the queue system works and somehow it seems different to those queueing systems that almost seemed designed to annoy you. Why?
- You have a new kitchen gadget that works so much better than the old one. Why?
- You take your car in for a full valet. You drive away with a sparkling shiny car and the feeling that you were cared for while they cleaned and polished. What was different?
Be curious. What is the difference that makes a difference with these experiences of systems, products or services that work well?
You are looking for ingredients within the situation there are contributing to a great experience, and remember that you as the person having experience, are also one of the input ingredients. What attitude and expectations did you have?
Also notice what works well around you, even if you are not directly experiencing it. For example, while you are waiting for your new tyres to be fitted, don’t just bury your head in the trashy magazines in the waiting room. Instead, notice the ebb and flow of people around the workshop. What tricks or shortcuts have they found to make their repetitive task easier and quicker?
Now that you have isolated what you think is an ingredient that makes a difference, how could that ingredient, or the concept of it, be applied to something you do?
One simple definition of innovation is taking an idea, and then using it somewhere else in some other context.
A famous example is the Dyson vacuum cleaner. James Dyson did not invent cyclone separator technology, but he was the first one to make it work in a domestic vacuum cleaner. He noticed how effective the centrifugal separator cyclones were in a sawmill to extract the sawdust from the vacuum system that removes sawdust from the cutting and planing machines. The rest, as they say, is history.
In a sense, curiosity is the mother of innovation. People often think that they will struggle to be innovative because they feel that they are not creative. Creativity is certainly useful, but curiosity is really all that you need to get the process started. Curiosity about what’s going on around you, and then curiosity about how an idea would work in another context.
So, turn off autopilot mode in your brain, and be curious!
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