Innovation is discovering the unknown when you’re looking for it.

Engauge’s DIG group asked a few of us to define “Innovation” on the fly. I came up with “Innovation is discovering the unknown when you’re looking for it”. The beer in my hand may have helped, but I think there is something to be said about “discovering the unknown when your looking for it“.

Everyone works differently of course, but based on how I work best, here are 5 tips to help you uncover what you’re looking for.

  1. Sitting in the same room for 10 hours straight will only water down your ideas and spin you in loops. So, start by changing up your physical environment when developing concepts and ideas. A 30 minute walk outside, or going to a new coffee shop for an hour can help keep you sharp and focused.
  2. Write down the problems, gaps, opportunities of anything that comes into mind. It doesn’t have to be related to the area your focusing on and don’t try to solve anything yet. Revisiting this list will help you uncover new ways of looking at the original problem or help you find common patterns with other problems that might spurn a new innovation.
  3. Look to nature as inspiration for possible solutions. Mother nature is the King-Kong of innovation; she’s been able to continually adapt and innovate over millions of years and continues to today. We have access to information that tells this story and see what was changed and why. You’ll be surprised what you’ll find when you look at it from mother nature’s lens. Here is a somewhat related example from TED speaker Michael Pawlyn.
  4. Once you have a few hypotheses on one or more problems, create a quick schedule and block off 2 to 3 hour blocks to focus on each hypothesis separately. Set yourself a start and end date (typically one to two weeks, 2-3 hours a day or every other day per hypothesis) to prove or disprove the hypothesis quickly and move one.
  5. I like to use Scrum as an iterative and incremental way of developing a hypothesis into a working concept. Although Scrum is typically used for software development, I find the general concepts to work with just about anything (Processes, workflows, business models, etc.). This methodology allows you to test assumptions quickly and uncover problem areas early on.

As always, I’d love your thoughts.

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