Out of the Box Thinking

[via Veer and Anish] Ubiquity has an interview with Andrew Hargadon, the author of “How Breakthroughs Happen: The Surprising Truth about How Companies Innovate”. Andrew has some interesting things to say about how innovation happens:

Innovation is the practical exploitation of any novel idea. Novel ideas can be inventions in the strict definition of the term, which means they didn’t exist before, but most often they’re not. Instead, they’re based on taking an idea that’s been developed somewhere else — or combining a number of existing ideas — and introducing them to a market that hasn’t seen those combinations before.

By focusing on recombining existing ideas — rather than inventing new ones — we can better exploit the sources of innovation and, at the same time, increase the likelihood of their impact. It’s much easier to think of things that have already been done and, when you introduce those ideas into new markets, they are already well developed. The trick is putting yourself or your firm into position to be the first to see these opportunities. Highly successful firms have developed a set of innovation strategies, called Technology Brokering strategies, that enable them to move between different worlds, to see how ideas from one market’s past can be used in new ways in another market.

[There are two critical two roles of brokering.] The first is to bridge different worlds by moving between industries, markets and knowledge domains and seeing the range of existing ideas that are already out there. The second role is to build a new community around the ideas to attract not only customers but also competitors and suppliers. Don’t focus on inventing and hoarding the rewards of that invention but instead on creating a community that wasn’t there before.

It’s much easier to recognize the similarities between two things (analogy) rather than come up with something that you’ve never thought of (invention). Solving problems with analogies means having an open mind, it means having seen many different things, and it means admitting that, whatever problem you’re attempting to tackle right now, you’re likely neither the first to try nor the most qualified. Somebody somewhere else has already solved this problem. Find out what they did and build on what they created.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.