Creativity and innovation often springs from having an insight born of close attendance to people’s behavior: the Swiffer was born after Continuum, the consultancy that Procter & Gamble called in to discover a new home product, studied the way people cleaned their homes and found that people spent as much time cleaning their mops as they spent cleaning with their mops.
They moved to solve that pain point, and sprucing up your kitchen now takes only minutes with a good Swiffering. In another domestic example, Febreze took off when marketers realized that people felt proud after finishing their chores and supplied a ritual to conclude them, a satisfying spray that now makes more than $1 billion a year.
New things are often found by combining (or finding the relationship) between two unrelated things.
This suggests that the heart of the innovation process is attending closely to the various events that are occurring around you and plotting the connections formed by them the same way the ancients mapped the constellations. We’re trying to find just how everything connects, then spying the value residing in those connections.
The creativity-spurring benefits of diverse experiences (and diverse individuals) can be realized at both an individual and an organizational level.
When journalists ask artists the lazy question “Where do your ideas come from?” the answer can only be this: their experiences.
If an idea is the seed of strategy, what is the seed of an idea? It is experience, but can there be qualitative differences in experience?
There can: research has shown that the reason time seems to speed up as you get older is that the world is not as novel as it was when you were young. The more familiar you are with a situation—or you perceive that you are with a situation—the more quickly you will experience it. This is an argument for varied experience—a predictor of creativity.
How? Because, it is a matter of attending to your experience.
The less we’re wrapped up in our thinking, the more we notice about the world. What do you call this attending to experience? Curiosity. As Einstein famously said that he had no special talent beyond being passionately curious, we can say that there is no other avenue to cultivating creative work aside from impassioned curiosity.
An ongoing part of curiosity building—both in our individual working lives and as part of a team—is to practice inviting a breadth of experiences, a pool of experiences from which we can draw on later in life.
Being intentional about the breadth of experiences you give yourself allows you to better understand yourself, which helps clarify the foundation of creative process. Whether we’re designers, cooks, project managers, or writers, sampling a range of experiences helps us identify ourselves within a novel context and find, again, our place in the world.
In a practical way, we can arrange for more innovation generating in our lives by diversifying the following:
The media you consume. Taking in a range of art, news, and scholarship makes you more vulnerable to cross-pollinating insight. If you normally read about business, take in the arts. If you usually watch serious documentaries, grab some popcorn and catch a blockbuster. If you’ve never seen a ballet, see one; if you don’t get the point of botanical gardens, go to one and find it.
The people you see. Network theory has found that the success of a team is predicted by the quality and quantity of the connections its members have, especially across disciplines and silos. To apply that to our personal lives, we’d benefit from growing diverse partnerships within our lives. Yes, a true partner is a rare thing indeed, but that preciousness is part of the reason to vigilantly care for them.
The events you attend. Finding those partnerships—the members of your tribe, if you will—is as difficult as it is life affirming. The question, then, is where do people in your interest and priority circle congregate? Conferences, talks, and readings are all examples, and so is your friendly neighborhood bar. It’s the same with parties, dinner or otherwise. The idea is that conferences and parties are places where serendipity makes itself available, ready to be realized by a friendly smile and a heartfelt handshake.
But these are only three ways to enrich our lives with broader, more closely attended experiences. We can also become more deliberate about training ourselves in directly participating in our experiences, that is, living a little more mindfully. But that’s a topic for another day.
Excerpted with permission from EVERYTHING CONNECTS: How To Transform And Lead In The Age Of Creativity, Innovation And Sustainability (McGraw Hill) by Faisal Hoque with Drake Baer. Copyright (c) 2014 by Faisal Hoque. All rights reserved.
[Featured Image: Edu Grande]