Stupid Wins In The Game Of Innovation



We are a race of innovators – born to use our imagination to create not only solutions to our most pressing problems (polio vaccine) but to also create the fun in our lives (pet rocks).   We only have to look as far as our kids to rediscover that fundamental draw to use our imagination to create something out of nothing.  Children are naturally superb innovators. They can create the most amazing toys from normal household items. Who would have thought of all the uses for a paper towel roll?  This was brought home to me recently by my oldest daughter, a Speech Language Pathologist who works with pre-school children with special needs.  She has my wife and I saving all of our empty paper towel rolls for “her kids”.  What we as adults see as trash, they see as baseball bats, light sabers, telescopes, etc.  One of the reasons young children can be so expressive – so imaginative – is they don’t know or care how they look.  They have no concept of conformity.  What adults would call “cute” or “silly” has no bearing on their imagination.

When we grow older, we admire bold thinking.  Revolution is chic.  Trendsetters are idolized.  It is demeaning to be called unoriginal, conventional or traditional (boring). We thrill at the idea of being the one that breaks the rule, being the one that creates the next big thing.  But many people have a hard time seeing themselves in that role. In the process of growing up, they lost that ability to see themselves as creative.  For some reason, they believe that creativity is some kind of gift from God and that others have it but not them.  It is these mistaken assumptions, half-truths, misplaced generalities and habits that keep them from being able to create truly brilliant innovations.  If they believe they are not creative, they will not try to be creative.

I don’t buy-in to the “gift” of thinking.  I’m a firm believer that each and every person is born with the ability to be creative.  I’ve seen it over and over again that once I’ve helped someone unlock their own ability to be creative, they go on to create amazing things.  What is it that holds most people back from breaking out from this “old think”?

  1. Never having been taught the basic skill of creativity.  Yes, its a skill that anyone can learn, practice and become proficient at.
  2. Worrying about creating a stupid idea.  Instead they develop concepts using old thinking that sounds sensible, sounds safe, that has an outcome that is most likely an incremental improvement or worst, a failure.

To find that internal spark, we need to learn the skill of creativity and innovation (subject of the +120 show catalog in the Killer Innovations podcast) while also rediscovering that child-like curiosity – that child-like imagination to look stupid and not care.  What we “know” is a greater obstacle than what we don’t know. But clearing our minds of our old thinking habits is as difficult as pushing all of the air out of a room. Minds, like nature, cannot sustain a vacuum. Something must displace those old habits.  To create a killer idea, you need to drop your prejudice of what “sounds right” and create truly new ideas – ideas that will most likely sound absolutely stupid.

So the next time you hear a stupid idea, catch yourself from immediately dismissing it and ask if you are applying “old think”.  Recognizing your own biases is the first step on the recovery process from being creatively boring to becoming a revolutionary.

RELATED POSTS:  3 Actions To Improve Your Creative Thinking
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7 thoughts on “Stupid Wins In The Game Of Innovation

  1. nice article. but not powerful enough to convince ones who think otherwise (i.e. ones who think creativity is a gift and cannot be learnt.)

  2. I’m with you Phil. It can be learned by using techniques and practicing. Brainstorming, for example, if well facilitated is great fun and amazingly creative.

  3. Its fundamentally true Phil but still, children does not have any kind of target to achieve. Today innovation are measured by many things which we dont force on children.

    Innovation is measured by ROI, expected time to show some progress, limited resources and the list is never ending.

    But for children, its freedom. They want to make something, they are free and when they get bored they switch to the new things.

    That is the reason, people quantify the innovation by so many brainstorming sessions and six hat thinking.

    May be lateral thinking will also play a part in this innovation process.

    Hardik Upadhyay

  4. I think creativity requires the correct set of circumstances to be fully expressed, as you mentioned.

    Sometimes that comes from a supportive upbringing, other times it comes from finding the correct outlet for that creativity. It could even come down to finding your creative muse in a partner whom together you become a creative team, whereas individually you are far less capable of producing truly creative ideas.

    In my mind it all comes down to passion. If you’re passionate about something, you won’t care what other people think. This is when you can connect with your creative outputs on a sub-conscious, and very personal level.

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