Monday, May 28, 2012

The Innovator's Dilemma

When most people think of abstract conversations, they categorize it as mental masturbation. This is unfortunate because abstract conversations are the source of innovation.

You may say that I am making a bold statement. Or you may be saying to yourself that there are many ways to innovate. Innovation is not maintaining. While it includes improvement, most of us think of innovative people and companies as those that create something that did not exist before. So what do abstract conversations have to do with inventing?

If you think about every invention, the primary source of the invention first existed as
an abstraction. The secondary source became a physical manifestation of the abstraction.

For example, before Henry Ford created the assembly line, there was no name for it. In fact, it did not exist. His first thoughts were about outcomes – an inexpensive automobile. Second, he thought abstractly about how to do that. Without an example of an assembly line to make a car, he had to make it up. He had to imagine it, like creating a puzzle. Next, he was only able to speak about it abstractly to others who had the expertise to help him build it. Those individuals had to be able to translate Ford’s abstract puzzle into a functioning model that produced the outcome – less expensive cars.

There are many more examples of people who built our modern conveniences. Those people built it in there heads first. It is analogous to putting a puzzle together in your head. You make up the pieces of the puzzle. Then you put them together in a sequence that is functional. Then you put it on paper. Afterwards, you garner resources to make it a reality. Alan Turig, is known for building the computer as we know it back in the 1940s. He said he put the entire computer together in his head. Before putting it on paper, he made it work in his mind. To do this, he said he had to envision what would not work and correct it. This is abstract thinking at its best.  

To think abstractly and innovate effectively, it is important to make a distinction. The distinction is between thinking and having thoughts. Having thoughts is remembering what we know, what we have been told or what we have seen. Thinking is thinking that which you have not thought without the thoughts we already have. The dilemma is authentic thinking can create confusion because there is so much uncertainty. We are taught and receive rewards to memorize information. If we are really intelligent, we have lots of information in our memory in order to compare it to what is in front of us.

Contrast that with someone engaged in authentic thinking, they have little or no information. More importantly, the innovator invents information for the rest of the world to read about and memorize. 

So what’s the point? Each of us is a powerful innovator. Except, access to our innovative side requires us to engage in abstract conversations and deal with the confusion that authentic thinking can create. If you stay with your authentic thinking process and allow yourself to be comfortable with the confusion of not having the right answers, you will find your abstract conversations give you the ability to manifest innovations that you never thought before. Without question, this can make you a valuable contributor to everyone in your life.

What do you think? I would love to hear your thoughts.

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