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Innovation Hack: The Law of Rich Input

“Garbage in, Garbage out” is a maxim that comes from the world of computing.

Bryan Searing
Sep 6, 2017 · 4 min read

It makes sense in that world, because computers use logical processes.

If incorrect data is put into the machine, then incorrect data comes out.

In fact, the inventor of the first programmable computing device design, Charles Babbage, was asked about this on two different occasions:

“If you put wrong figures into the machine, will the right answers come out?”

His response is classic:

“I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question.”

What’s fascinating is that this took place in 1822, the year he developed his design for what he called “the difference engine” — the first programmable computing device. That’s not a typo. 1822.

By Woodcut after a drawing by Benjamin Herschel Babbage — Google books, Public Domain,

We should learn from that.

But too many of us are so focused on mundane, day-to-day tasks that we forget that we need rich input to generate richer output.

The old maxim, “Garbage in, Garbage out,” holds true for innovation as much as it does for logical processes — even though innovation, creativity and imagination are frequently anything but logical.

The Law of Rich Input

Just like athletes need exercise, a healthy diet, and practice, we see that innovators, creators, imagineers (to borrow a term from Disney), dreamers, and visionaries need a cadence of rich input.

LOTS of rich input.

Otherwise, bad input = poor output.

Or worse, NO input = dismal output.

For example…

If innovation is about challenging authority and breaking rules, then you need to understand the rules and how they work first.

If innovation is about connecting ideas, then you need to be exposed to a variety of ideas so you can play with the connections.

If innovation is about leveraging ideas from other disciplines, then you need to explore the innovations occuring in those fields.

If innovation is born out of research, then you need to conduct research — gather the data, do the analysis, and then play with the output.

If innovation is about reaching people, then you need to be around people — observe them so you can really see them, listen to them so you can really hear them.

Be aware: innovation is about all of those examples.

Procuring rich input is not a one-time effort.

Nor is it a quick ROI.

But it is time and resources well spent.

“There’s nothing efficient about innovation.” — Simon Sinek

  1. Expose yourself (or your team) to lots of rich input. Every day. Read. Search. Do. Get your hands dirty.
  2. Collect the most interesting stuff. In a file. In a notebook. On your wall. On your Phone.
  3. Review your collection. Study it. Look for connections. Challenge authority. Break rules. Borrow and apply.
  4. Then take a break — and let your brain get to work.

The Law of Rich Input Applies to Business as Much as to Novel Writing

I am a marketing strategy consultant. I apply the Law of Rich Input as I help businesses innovate new products or customer experiences.

In order to innovate better for clients, we conduct ethnographic research with their target audience, we learn from other disciplines, we challenge and connect. LOTS of rich input.

I write historical fiction novels. I apply the Law of Rich Input as I research and develop storylines and characters.

My literary agent tells me that in order to write better, I should read more. I also watch people everywhere I go. LOTS of rich input.

Learn from what I do. Several of the exercises in my free eBook, “5 Exercises That Will Make You 10 Times More Creative,” are all about how to apply the Law of Rich Input.

No matter your creative or innovative pursuits, the Law of Rich Input will hold true for you.


Garbage in, Garbage out.

Imaginative Thinking in, Imaginative Thinking out.

Rich Input → Richer Output.

What are you waiting for? Go gather some rich input right now.

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Bryan Searing

Written by

Historical Fiction Author. Marketing & Insights Consultant. Husband. Father of 3. Inspired by Innovation, Creativity, Imagination + Design.

A network of business & tech podcasts designed to accelerate learning.