“Creativity is thinking up new things. Innovation is doing new things.” — Theodore Levitt
Innovation is a game everyone can play.
But you need innovation tools and techniques to be more effective.
What if you could innovate like Archimedes, Einstein, or Edison? What new process would you create, what new product would you design, or what new idea would you think up?
For some, innovation is more systematic. For others, it’s more serendipity. In all cases, a big idea is rooted in insight.
In the book, The Four Lenses of Innovation: A Power Tool for Creative Thinking, Rowan Gibson shares a simple process to innovate like Einstein.
The Archimedes, Einstein, and Edison Approach to Innovation
While everybody’s innovation process might look different on the surface, they all tend to follow a common set of steps.
“Is there really a ‘method’ by which all ideas are produced,’ as James Webb Young asserted more than six decades ago? Certainly, Archimedes, Einstein, and Edison seemed to follow quite similar steps to their breakthrough solutions, essentially corresponding with the linear, multistage models of the creative process that have been defined and refined over the past hundred years.”
8-Step Creative Process for Innovation
You can innovate like Einstein.
Here are the eight steps of how to innovate like Einstein according to Rowan Gibson:
- Frame a specific challenge and focus on solving it.
- Research a subject. Learn from the work of others.
- Immerse yourself in the problem. Explore possible solutions.
- Reach a roadblock. Feel the creative frustration.
- Relax. Detach from the problem. Let it incubate in the unconscious mind.
- Come to an illuminating insight that fundamentally shifts your perspective.
- Build the insight (or insights) into a big idea–a new combination of thoughts.
- Test and illuminate the new idea–try to make it work.
Treat the 8-steps for innovation like scaffolding. Just use the process as a way to build your innovation muscle. As you start to spread your wings, you’ll find you can skip over steps or re-sequence them, as you build your fluency in the art and science of innovation.
Innovation Can Often Be Intuitive and Serendipitous
What happens if you miss a step, or skip a beat?
Sometimes by chance, and not always by choice.
“In contrast, many other inventors, entrepreneurs, and innovators came to their ideas in ways that deviated quite obviously from their standard models. Their approach to innovation was more intuitive than deliberate; more serendipitous than systematic.
But, as we found out when we unpacked these latter cases, there was nevertheless a stepwise process involved in discovering and developing each of these opportunities, even though several of the steps may have been in a different order than prescribed in most models, or simply skipped altogether.”
There are Common Steps for Innovation
While you can try and wing it with innovation, or wait for creative lightning to strike, or hope that you experience great flashes of insight, it’s still a good idea to stack the deck in your favor.
I like to think of it as getting up to bat, focus on hitting the ball well, and every now and then hitting it out of the park.
But not swinging for the fence every time you’re up at bat.
I think that rooting yourself in an approach that you can count on for yourself, that allows for serendipity, but at the same time, encourages forward progress, will help you find what works for you.
“It turns out, then, that the production of ideas is not quite ‘as definitive a process as the production of Fords,’ to use James Webb Young’s assembly line analogy. However, there are some common steps that seem to recur in every case, whether the innovators in question were deliberately trying to follow ‘an operative technique,’ or instead were just following their creative instincts.
It’s definitely not wrong to consciously set up the front end of the creative process in the most effective way by framing a specific challenge and focusing on solving it, researching the subject to learn from the work of others, immersing yourself in the problem and exploring possible solutions–probably reaching a roadblock or creative impasse at some point–and then detaching from the problem to let it incubate in the unconscious mind.”
Innovation Sometimes Happens by Chance
Creative leaps happen.
“Anyone who has ever spent time in R&D, new product development, advertising or design, or who has ever worked on solving some creative challenge of their own, will no doubt immediately identify with this sequence of steps.
But this doesn’t mean that innovation sometimes happens, at least partly, by chance.
As we have clearly seen, it’s not always necessary to follow each one of these preliminary steps, in this particular order, to discover a new opportunity, although several or all of the steps may still occur at some point further downstream.”
Powerful Ideas are Always Inspired by Insights
If you want to innovate like Einstein, while you can follow the steps to improve your effectiveness with innovation, the real key is to master your ability to gain insight.
Insights are the fundamental building blocks of big ideas.
If you want more big ideas, then find ways to shift your perspective and see things in a brand new way.
“One element is the big idea. Obviously, at the heart of every significant innovation there is a compelling and value-creating idea of some kind– a new combination of thoughts. The other element is the illuminating insight (or insights).
Without fail, every big idea was preceded by at least one insight–a new and penetrating understanding into a situation or problem.
These two elements of the creative thinking process–the insight and the idea–are invariably present in each case, and are always inextricably connected. Why? Because if there was one universal law of innovation, it would be this: Powerful new ideas are never simply snatched of the air. They are always inspired by insights.”
Just because you don’t have Einstein’s cool hair or mustache doesn’t mean you can’t take a page out of his playbook.
Maybe you won’t imagine yourself riding on a beam of light, like Einstein did, but maybe you’ll see yourself riding something even more illuminating.
Here’s to you, and innovating like Einstein.