The Secret Life of Innovation

Wouter Kersten

Through a combination of circumstances something occurred to me. Or “three somethings”. Or one but in three different shapes. Anyway. I needed all three to see the pattern. So here goes:

One: in a recent workshop on innovation, or rather ideation (i.e. idea generation), I made the comparison between an innovation process including the role of creativity, and DNA: an innovation process with several phases and moments that revolve around creativity, is not linear, it is difficult to say exactly where it starts or ends, with a small number of building blocks you can construct infinite combinations, and while there is a more or less accepted logical sequence, anyone involved in these processes knows that it in real life the process is much more discursive: it takes jumps in either direction, twists, turns, iterations, cycles etc.

If we would want to visualise that, what does all this remind us of? In 9 out of 10 innovation textbooks you will see some kind of funnel-shape, diamond (divergence-convergence) or in the really daring ones a double diamond. Two whole cycles.. That was my first ‘epiphany’: double diamonds are not enough to capture the essence of innovation, and therein creativity. Perhaps we should rather think in terms of a double helix. Yes, DNA. The basis of all (organic) life. Life. Keep that thought.

Two: it does not stop there. Another recent realization is that in many innovation efforts the focus lies on either the micro level (entrepreneurs or companies bringing a new product to market) or the macro level (system change, game changers, change makers). What if, as a starting point for an innovation effort, to be able to create something meaningful we agree we need to do both: zoom in, i.e. get the details right and zoom out, i.e., ensure that what we do makes sense in systemic sense and preferably addresses so-called system flaws. Zoom in — Zoom out. Not once, but several times, many times, perhaps as long as it seems to work for you. And what does that remind us of? Well, to me at least, it resembles breathing.

Start seeing the pattern?

And as Three is the magic number, here’s the third situation that I found myself in to tie the story together. I saw a presentation on research that had been conducted where the traditional depiction of an innovation process (diverge, select and converge) was modelled as …. you’d never guess it by now, a breathing process: breathe in (source in), hold breath (select) and breathe out (produce result). In that particular research, innovation was depicted as one breathing cycle. It is not difficult to imagine how real life is — fortunately — more repetitive than one breath.

1+2+3 = a logical conclusion?
So, what is the simple conclusion from all this? I choose to let it be this one: DNA and breathing are the quintessential elements of our life. And from the above we learn that they are also the core to Creativity and by extension also the entire process of Innovation. It might be just me, but I take a lot of comfort in that.

Wouter Kersten

Written by

Chief Curiosity at The New ABC. Always Be Curious and forget “the box” altogether.

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