As you already know, experts studying innovations, increasingly recognize that creativity leading to innovations is not the domain of specific individuals who are more creative (e.g., people often staffing R&D departments), but can come from anyone who is open to new ideas. Moreover many now believe that some of these innovations really are really the result of borrowing existing ideas and combining them in new ways.
For instance, Henry Ford’s breakthrough in launching the Model T’s assembly line, came from combining features of Chicago meatpackers’ disassembly lines, the use of interchangeable parts as used by Singer sewing machines, and the use of continuous-flow production as used by H.J. Heinz, the Campbell Soup Company and the Borden Milk Company.
David Kord Murray, in Borrowing Brilliance, identifies six steps to business innovation by building on the ideas of others. Here they are:
- Defining the problem you’re trying to solve
- Borrowing ideas from places with a similar problem
- Connecting and combining these borrowed ideas
- Incubating these ideas until a solution emerges
- Judging the strengths and weaknesses of the solution
- Enhancing the weak points while enhancing the strong ones.
Clearly, not all initial ideas will work – so your task involves rejecting non-workable ideas. For that you need outside perspectives – which means having a network of people you can turn to who are objective and insightful.
While Andrew Hargadon’s How Breakthroughs Happen: The Surprising Truth About How Companies Innovate doesn’t exactly address this side of the issue, his book recognizes the power of the network to help people create innovations. Hargadon views innovators as “technology brokers”, people who see ideas and connect and combine them. Recombinant innovation thus becomes the source of innovation. He focuses not as much on the ideas, but the network of people who have access to the ideas which can come together. Henry Ford, for example, had an extensive network of people who had connections to others who had experiences with the three components of his eventual assembly-line breakthrough. It’s the people in this network that allowed him to make the connections, alone he would not have made. Similarly, members of this network help you refine which ideas do not work, and that is equally important. As managers of our projects, we need to simultaneously encourage doubt and dedication in order to build-out the best ideas.
Isaac Newton once said “If I have seen farther than other men, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.” Connecting with others who share your curiosity for better ways to organize our efforts and produce superior results is key to staying creative and producing innovations. So, build yourself a network of other creative people to help you define and refine your ideas, and then support your implementation steps.
How do you find current and future “giants” to support your creativity and innovations? One way is by reading our blogs gleaning from the insights of others. Another is to meet with such people, virtually or in person. Another is to engage them in supporting your development team. Clearly the payoff can be enormous. What are you doing now? I highly recommend reading the books I’ve shared in this blog – as they will stimulate your ability to connect and combine to innovate! And of course, share your thoughts and experiences with the rest of us!