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Innovation Insights by Stephen Shapiro

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Innovation does not need to be new or original. It just needs to be valuable…

One of my favorite quotes comes from Mark Twain:

“There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.”

I posted this quote on social media and quickly received pushback from someone who claimed that Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and Darwin’s theories on evolution were new ideas.

That’s when the debate began. Were they truly original ideas?

Are there any original ideas?

We know that Darwin’s theories on evolution were pre-dated by Lamarck’s theory of the transmutation of species and others. Even Einstein credits David Hume and Ernst Mach as being major influencers in his work.

This raised the question: Are there actually any new ideas?

Or as someone asked, “When was the origin of an original thought? There has to be a beginning. Right? Is it just that we’ll never know because there’s no record? And at what point did original ideas stop, and kaleidoscopes start?”

This got my head spinning and sparked some interesting discussion.

My first response was, “Great question. I don’t have an answer.”

Has there ever been a new creation that could not linked back to a previous innovation?

Although new ideas need to start somewhere, I struggle to find an example. Every discovery appears to be predicated on an earlier one. Penicillin, a 20th century discovery, has roots going back 5,000 years to Mesopotamia, Ancient Egypt, India, and China when fungi and other plants were used to treat diseases. But we can go even further back to the Paleolithic 60,000 years ago when plants were used as medicine according to archeologists.

Why do we focus on novelty?

Then Mark Bowden, founder of TRUTHPLANE, chimed in with some perspectives.

“‘New ideas’ is an explanation for how we seemingly come up with knowledge from nowhere. There does not have to be an original thought. But the idea of it is helpful for us.”

He suggested that we try to imagine anything that is not a derivative of something from the past. To do this, you would need explain it in terms of nothing but itself, without metaphors.

He then continued with an interesting point of view:

“I suspect part of the problem is in the word ‘original’ being thought to mean new, rather than to mean ‘now seen from over the horizon.’ We don’t look over the curvature of the earth to notice the new day was already there. We are quite obsessed with the value of ‘newness.'”

Why are we obsessed with the value of newness?

He closed with something I find quite poetic and deep:

“We know that things end, often painfully. So, we are desperate for greater to be born. Rather than the old and fragile to be built upon.”

Whoa. This is so profound that I’m still thinking about it hours after I first read those words.

What do you believe? Can you think of anything that is truly original? Or is everything really just a derivative of the past? What if every new idea is based on something that once existed?

What if there is no such thing as a new idea?

I see many people get stopped with their innovation efforts because they feel that it has already been done. So, the belief that their idea is not truly novel stops them.

But what if there is nothing new under the sun? Would this give you freedom? Would this help you overcome the internal obstacles that stop you from bringing your ideas to the world?

Stop obsessing over novelty. Instead, focus on value. Even if your idea is not new, your unique perspective and spin could create something the world needs.

This article originally appeared on the Inc. website

I’ve always found that innovation and mysteries have a lot in common. They both involve solving complex problems, and sometimes making the impossible possible. This is why I primarily read and watch mysteries during my spare time. They force me question my thinking in order to see the clues.

One of my all-time favorite television shows was Monk. The characters were great, and Monk’s obsessive hand washing is now quite timely. But for me, the mysteries were what grabbed my attention. To solve the puzzle each week, you needed to challenge your assumptions and consider an unlikely solution.

To learn more about the how the stories are written, I reached out to Hy Conrad. He worked as a writer for the entire run of the show, and was co-executive producer the final two years. He is also the author of four Monk books. I watched every episode multiple times and read every book.

His latest mystery, The Fixer’s Daughter, was published September 10, 2020. I had the privilege of reading an early review copy.  It is excellent! Although the story is filled with mystery and intrigue, it was the richness of the characters that had me totally enthralled.

Let’s start with your creative process. How do you develop your “puzzles?” What’s the thought process?

Creating whodunit puzzles is a learned skill. For me, a practitioner of the traditional mystery, the twist comes first.  Once I know the ah-ha moment, then I can build backwards.  “In order for the killer to fool everyone into thinking X, what has to happen?  What kind of person does the killer have to be?  What is his skill set?  And how do I make it all believable?”

Continue reading >>

People don’t want creativity.

They may say they do, but there is a strong anti-creativity bias in most organizations. And unfortunately this bias happens at an subconscious level.

This video shares some interesting findings from a study by Cornell University (my alma mater) – and the implications.

Note that the video talks about “newness.” In a previous post I shared my most recent Inc article about how there is nothing new. My use of newness in this video does not invalidate my belief that there is nothing that is 100% new, but we’ll save that debate for another time.

Enjoy!

Invisible Solutions Videobook Chapter 1 Segment 8 (3:23)

My most recent Inc. article has been popular and  controversial. The premise is that there are no new ideas. (if you haven’t read it, please do so before reading on…)

This got me thinking back to when I was pitching a TV show. 

My agent said that Hollywood doesn’t want you to think OUTSIDE the box, they want you to think AROUND the box.

His belief was that studios and audiences want shows that are derivatives of previously successful shows. 

It is easier to sell a show when it is similar to a past success. Something new is viewed as risky and harder to understand. This is why we see 100 Star Wars spin-offs. It doesn’t mean that something “new” can’t be successful, but quite often there is reused formula in most shows and movies.

Of course, Hollywood is not representative of all innovation! Far from it. But I thought it was an interesting parallel to what I wrote.  

Are there new ideas? It depends on the definition of new. Of course, we create things that are new. However, I contend that (nearly) everything is built on past ideas and nothing is completely new. 

Regardless, the bottom line of the Inc. article is that we should stop worrying about novelty and instead focus on value.

Just because you KNEW your industry and customers, doesn’t mean you KNOW them. Our past experiences can limit our ability to see new opportunities. 

According to the World Economic Forum, complex problem-solving is the most important soft skill companies and individuals need right now. I would argue that complex problem-formulation is what is needed.

The latest videobook installment

Chapter 1 Segment 7 (2:47)

Your past success can lead to future failure. If you are focused on opportunities based on your past experience, you may be solving irrelevant problems.

This segment is called “Good to Gone” as we discuss some of the companies that were once the largest in their industry, but they are now gone or on life support.

Videobook Chapter 1 Segment 6 (3:22)

Today’s videobook installment moves us down the path of reframing problems a better way.

We often hear the expression, “think outside the box.” But what if the key to better innovation and problem-solving is “finding a better box?” It’s not the expansiveness of your thinking that limits your range of solutions. You are often just looking in the wrong place!

Chapter 1 Segment 5. (3:16)

Previously I discussed why we don’t want to ask questions that are overly abstract/broad. Today we explore why the opposite – asking questions that are too specific – can also lead to less than stellar solutions. The example in today’s video is one of my favorites: The Exxon Valdez tanker spill. For nearly 2 decades a solution eluded experts. Only when the question was changed to one that was less specific was a solution quickly discovered. Enjoy!

I love this quote so much that I included it at the very beginning of my Invisible Solutions book.

“There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages. ” – Mark Twain

Today we get into the meat of the Invisible Solutions book. Chapter 1 starts with my baggage claim story. Here it is, exactly how it appears in the book. Enjoy!

P.S. If you missed the introduction, you can watch it here.

 

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