What innovation really is…and what it’s not

The famous myth of attributing innovation to light-bulb moments have become what they really are- MYTHS. There were processes and methods to innovation and there will always be many years from now. The beginning of this process is building on principles and past ideas:

- Charles Babbage built on some of the ideas of Pascal and Leibniz

- The properties of modern computing has built on the basic ideas of Charles Babbage(presented in his paper on Analytical Engine), which included:

1. Digital

2. Binary

3. Electronic

4. General purpose computing

- The Instant Messaging services are built basically on some of the principles of Short Messaging Service

Innovation is basically solving a problem. Without the proper definition of the problem, innovation might never happen. Sometimes the “problem” we see is not the problem. Before innovation can be successful, the problem needs a proper definition. Therefore, innovation requires research.

Research gives us the proper definition of a problem. And research would only be successful by asking the right questions:

What are the first principles and theories?

What are the past ideas?

And what were the failed solutions?

I absolutely love the way Paul Baran (the father of packet switching) puts it:

“the process of technological development is like building a cathedral. Over the course of several hundred new people come along and each lays down a block on top of the old foundations, each saying, “I built the cathedral”. Next month another block is placed atop the previous one. Then comes along an historian who asks, “Well, who built the cathedral?” Peter added some stones here, and Paul added some few more. If you are not careful, you can con yourself into believing that you did the most important part. But the reality is that each contribution has to follow onto the previous work. Everything is tied to everything else”.

We can relate this to innovating. We can conclude therefore that it would be foolish to want to build on this cathedral (of your industry) and not find out the structure of the cathedral and the material it’s made of. Also including the principles that formed the foundation of the cathedral; successful and failed workmen that have worked on the cathedral.

Importantly, there needs to be a shift in thinking from the “light-bulb imagery” attached to innovation and ideas to seeing innovation as basically a “learning process”. With this approach, we can do away with the thought innovation is only for “geniuses”.

Everyone can innovate, only if you are able to ask the right questions.

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