Yesterday afternoon, while driving to meet the other authors of the site for dinner, I heard an interesting fact on the radio. Yesterday was the tenth anniversary of the announcement of the iPhone. As the host and the callers got embroiled in a pseudotheological discussion on the merits of iOS versus Android, I started thinking about creativity, and, in particular, innovation and thought that would be a good topic for today…at least better than my original thought of listing my favorite Dad jokes.
I remember the Jobs announcement of the iPhone. He brought it out and showed how it was a phone, an iPod, and an Internet device all in one. He showed how he could download new applications, new music, and new video seamlessly and demonstrated the ease with which it all worked together. It was new, it was sleek looking and it was cool…and I knew then that I wanted one. The iPhone accelerated the smartphone revolution and created a whole new market around application development and delivery. However, this wasn’t the first time Steve Jobs created something that would revolutionize and shake up industries. Between the Apple IIe, the MacIntosh, and the iPod, Jobs created technologies and computer ecosystems that changed fundamentally how we interact with computers, listen to and purchase music and video programming. Steve Jobs was a true innovator in the sense that he took concepts, technologies and markets and combined them in new ways to create new opportunities and capabilities.
Many people believe that people like Steve Jobs, Thomas Edison, Leonardo DaVinci and others are rare finds; talented geniuses who appear on the scene for a brief time before passing into the annals of time. I don’t really think that is true, though. Certainly there are those talented few, but I believe everyone is capable of innovation. I believe it, like learning a language, is a skill that can be learned not just a talent to either have or not have. I really believe an aptitude or gift for innovating is nothing more than a 5% advantage rather than a 100% advantage. If you are gifted in something and give 100% towards it, then that extra 5% puts you definitively ahead of everyone else, however, if you only give 50% you can be beat by anyone giving 56% or more.
So how do we develop the skill of being creative or innovative? Years ago, I read a book by Roger Van Oech called A Whack on the Side of the Head, which was designed to help develop and foster creativity leading to innovation. In his book, he discusses how anyone can develop greater creativity by practicing a number of exercises, several of which I still use to this day. The first exercise I practice is to take 15 minutes a day of just absurd thinking. This exercise is designed to get your mind thinking differently by having you imagine a situation, absurd or otherwise, and spend 15 minutes trying to define what you would need to address to deal with it. The example in the book starts with “Suppose gravity shut down for 15 minutes every day, how would…” I then identified a number of questions associated with that, like, how would buildings and people need to change to accommodate that, etc.
A second exercise is to look for the second right answer. Too often we look at problems as being binary, having a single right answer and every other answer is wrong. This is something we learn from math classes and logic classes. One plus one always equals two. Every other answer is wrong, so you either give the right or a wrong answer. The problem is that most problems have more than one right answer and, if we stop thinking or researching after finding a first right answer, we may very well miss a better right answer. So, for most questions and problems, I spend time trying to find a second and third right answer in order to stretch my thinking and uncover other approaches I don’t normally use.
There are a number of other ideas and concepts in his books, but I have found these to be two I can use and practice daily and I have found that they really help me think outside the box, or, as Steve Jobs once put it, to “Think Different”.
By the way, for those of you wanting a good dad joke, here you go…
A doctor always stopped off at this little bar around the corner from his practice every night after work for a hazelnut daiquiri, which was a drink the bartender created especially for him. One day, however, the bartender ran out of hazelnut syrup, so he substituted almond flavoring. The physician tried it and said, “Something tastes weird with this” at which point the bartender confessed he used almond syrup. About two weeks later the bartender discovers he is again out of hazelnut syrup, but this time is also out of almond flavoring as well. So, he looks around and sees a bunch of hickory nuts, so he runs them through a grinder, blends them in with the daiquiri mix and sets it down just as the doctor enters the bar. The doctor tastes it, smiles and tastes it again. He looks at the bartender and says, “I know it isn’t hazelnut but this is excellent, what is it?” The bartender smiles and says, “it’s a hickory daiquiri, doc!”
Have a great rest of the day!