Companies are acutely aware of the fact that they need to be innovating to maintain a competitive edge, but how do you improve the innovation potential of the people you hire? While learning is possible (NBG has a innovation paradigm that it teaches), the actual core of this learning is unlearning. A recent article outlined the ways in which learning can suppress innovation 1 and several other authors prior to this have emphasized how important it is to recognize this 2-5: (1) Definitions block innovation since they determine how deeply you are willing to think about what is possible. For example, if you believed that an iPhone is a telephone with a music playing and internet capability, you may never explore whether it may be able to iron your clothes; (2) Disciplinary boundaries may lock you in. For example, you may start out as a biotechnology company, but what if you suddenly realize that all drugs in your pipeline are not working out? If you stick to your discipline, you may not explore an income from diagnostic tests that you can sell based on your existing drugs; (3) Academic credentials do not ensure innovation. Innovation occurs only if academics are prepared to leverage their structured knowledge into unknown territory. Educated or not, you have to be willing to explore the unknown to be innovative. (4) More people buying into your product helps you only if you are willing to say to all of them: this does not work anymore. Networks of buyers may be helpful or hurtful-the latter is true if they deter you from change; (5) Learning how to work out kinks in an existing technology may help you learn more about that technology but does not promote innovation of the next technology. This promotes a monoculture where more of the same people are hired rather than people who will come up with new ideas; (6) Learning by grazing does not work. A casual model of learning does not promote innovation. According to Malcolm Gladwell, 10,000 hours of learning is necessary for innovation to be more likely. It has to be fast. And it has to be copious and intense. This it is not learning that
matters, but the type of learning.
Thus, doing away with definitions and boundaries, taking a non-academic approach, relying on fellow-learners and not herders to be your followers, and hiring fresh perspectives into your culture is the way to enhance innovation. But
how can you do these things and not think you are falling off the deep end and putting your company at risk?