Obviousness has taken over the world. Innovation design has been reduced to slick formulae, and while the industry prides itself on creating new paradigms, there’s a disappointing lack of novelty, originality and progress.
This three-part series articulates my own mental model and the questions I ask when trying to dive under the sea of obviousness.
Part 1 of 3: What’s going on?
Not a day passes without generalities preached about Eric Ries, Steve Blank or Clayton Christensen; choruses of people venerating the innovation methods of the likes of Uber, Google Apple, Amazon, Airbnb; platitudes about Sergey and Larry; clichés and euphemisms about Mr. Jobs’s innovation practices.
We must stop trying to find exponential growth by reducing innovation design to sequential process and logic, and return to the core notions of imagination, creativity and originality, which underpin innovation design. We’ve started elevating causality to a throne and forgetting that great success can come from a place of randomness and serendipity. The complexities of human depth can’t be reduced to bullets points.
Let me be clear: I don’t discount the value of understanding the basic processes of innovation — nor do I dismiss the benefits of foundational knowledge. And I acknowledge the benefits of studying best practices from top-class companies, which provide great case studies. All that having been said, my worry is three-fold:
1. Regurgitating the same well-known, obvious innovation basics won’t drive any progress in our practice — either in skills or knowledge. From Francis Bacon theories about the progress of knowledge to recent scientific research on how knowledge is built, the common characteristic highlighted as a requirement for advancement is diversity of thought.
2. There’s an instinct entrenched in business culture that success is a matter of cause-and-effect. Innovation isn’t governed by logic, and competitive advantage can’t solely come from a place of logic. Logic can too easily be replicated.
3. Superficial generalities about the innovation process and nebulous descriptions of how successful innovations were born simply produce a layer of vagueness. It’s confusing for people trying to launch a meaningful product to market, because these stories aren’t actionable or specific.
My experience tells me that successfully creating sustainable new businesses that have a positive human impact relies on a nuanced, ambiguous and multi-layered system. One that represents the complexities of the world and the depth of the human needs more accurately. Not one that simplifies innovation to sequential process, subscribes to “big tech” remote practices or relies on academic studies.
Wait, is this just criticism?
No, that’s not my intention. This first part of my three-part series sets the scene for the two parts that follow. The series focuses on innovation design topics that I believe are non-obvious and I hope I’ll say something new about our practice in a way that helps us to evolve it.