Enhance Productivity and Efficiency with Stephen’s Innovation Insights

Innovation Insights by Stephen Shapiro

According to a recent Huffington Post/YouGov poll 28% of Americans did not read a book last year. As an author, I find this both disappointing and yet not surprising.

Fortunately most people read.

But is what you are reading enhancing your creativity, or just furthering your intellect?

Most people who read for business purposes focus on deepening their expertise. They read books, business magazines, and trade journals about their topic. For example, if you are finance expert, you most likely read primarily about money. The training classes you take are also most likely financially focused. And professionally, you probably hang out with other people in your industry.

Of course this is valuable. Deepening one’s skills is critical.

However, if you want to be even more successful, try broadening your horizons.

I am a professional speaker on the topic of innovation. However, less than 50% of my personal development time is focused on speaking or innovation.

Learning from fellow speakers and innovators can only take me so far. There are countless studies that show that true breakthroughs rarely, if ever, come from the domain experts. In others words, if I want to be the same as other innovators, learning from them is fine. But if I want to be different/better than other innovators, I can’t learn from them.

I recently signed up for a 6 day magic master class. I’m partly interested in it for the performance aspect; it will improve my speaking skills. Most good magicians do an amazing job at holding the attention of an audience. I am also interested in magic from the “brain science” perspective. Magic exploits various quirks of the brain, and I believe that understanding these helps me be a better innovator. Magic is about making the impossible possible. Let’s face it, most innovation programs have difficulty making the possible possible.

Although I read Harvard Business Review, I spend even more time reading magazines about the brain/neuroscience (e.g., “Scientific American Mind” magazine), psychology, and sports performance. I learn from entrepreneurs who are not involved in either speaking or innovation. And for pleasure, I read mysteries as they seem to strengthen my problem solving abilities.

None of these topics were chosen at random.

In addition to being topics I enjoy, they are what I call “purposeful tangents.” They are related to my areas of expertise, but they not the same.

Do you work in the gas pipeline industry? Learning from others in that field can of course be valuable. But you may gain breakthrough level insights from cardiovascular experts as they too deal with the movement of fluids through a vessel. In fact, there is a group in Houston called Pumps & Pipes; cardiologists and gas pipeline experts who share insights from their respective fields. These are purposeful tangents. They are related.

What are your purposeful tangents? What could you read/study that is similar to your area of expertise, but different?

Of course there are valuable lessons to be learned anywhere. But looking for insights in random places may lead to random value. It is less predictable and may dissipate your energies.

But again, focusing too much on your area of expertise only leads to incremental improvements.

Purposeful tangents can lead to breakthrough learning with a high level of predictability.

  1. I am willing to be a “practice” audience for your first attempts at some new magic tricks. Nice post- great insights as usual.

  2. Scott A. Kerth says:

    I really liked this post and I agree that it the ability to see and make connections across domains of knowledge helps drive a critical part of innovation success. Achieving this as an individual is difficult but can be accomplished through planned focus, specific activities and dedication. The really challenging aspect and the area where I would like to hear your thoughts is achieving this in a team, group, or organization. On one had if there is a good diversity of participants, you have one of the required ingredients. But how do you get the individuals to appreciate the different perspectives so that learning occurs? Many people in organizations live in different “thought worlds” (Dougherty) and at best are indifferent to people with divergent opinions and in some cases see it as a competition to defend and protect their point of view. What are some tools, techniques, and processes you have seen or you used to develop mental curiosity and appreciation of different opinions so that the recombination of knowledge occurs? (ps just passed my dissertation defense, thanks for you insights)

  3. Richard Brandt says:

    This article reminds me of those in sports who go to other disciplines to help them with various aspects of their performance. When one hears of this, they think of how that person did something that few others would care enough to do. The idea that more practice of the same things is likely to lead to minimal improvement supports the whole idea of doing as you have done in terms of studying magic.
    Thank you for this helpful idea. I am reminded that learning is an individual thing. We can share some things, but each person must take the time and “trouble” to learn. – It’s nice to think that delving into other things can be useful to us in developing skills in our main area of interest.

  4. Thanks for your comment Scott. Diversity doesn’t work naturally. I wrote about this in a previous blog post: https://stephenshapiro.wpengine.com/2013/10/11/diversity-doesnt-work/. The word diversity is loaded because there are so many types of diversity.

    I tend to focus on diversity of personality and diversity of domain expertise.

    Appreciation of personality diversity is something I can’t cover fully in a comment and was covered extensively in my Personality Poker book.

    As far as domain expertise diversity, SOMETIMES the best way to handle that is through a well-defined challenge statement which leads you towards the right focus areas, or through open innovation. When you train individuals to think in a more connected way, they will start to naturally see the connections and seek out those who are different. Sometimes this “pull” strategy can be more effective than the “push” them all together approach.

    It is a great question and one that can’t be easily answered in a sound bite.

    • Scott A. Kerth says:

      Thanks Stephen, your comments are great, and they help to put some of the findings from my dissertation in perspective. I can see how using the term diversity without the proper context can be more harmful than helpful. Appreciation of cognitive diversity (thanks Toby) is a critical part of innovatively successful organizations.

  5. Thanks Richard for your comment. Yes, athletes can teach others quite a bit. The challenge at times is that metaphors can break down when you get into the details. I sometimes find it frustrating when someone is an expert in one area and tries to apply it to another (like sports to business). I prefer that the business person get acclimated in the area of sports psychology so that they know what questions to ask and where the metaphor will be most powerful.

  6. Stephen,
    Thank you for sharing…I so resonate with “tangent learning”! I “live” in the baseball/sports world where I try to close the gap between training and game realities. I too have researched the Brain, movement patterns of the body, relationships, the power of questions, etc. Would love to hear your suggestions/recommendations in pursuing resources for tangent learning or magic. I am open to receive and ready for for things to “automagically” appear! Many thanks.

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