Innovators Don't See Different Things - They See Things Differently

Last Updated Jun 5, 2011 7:45 PM EDT

Innovators Dont See Different Things They See Things DifferentlyI don't know why, but an awful lot of people seem to be very confused about what innovation means and how it really works. Innovators are not geeks with giant-sized brains that think plaids, stripes, and polka-dots all match.

And, more often than not, they don't have a single patent or PhD to their name.

In a recent New Yorker article and NPR interview, Malcolm Gladwell talks about what he calls the Creation Myth: that an innovator may not be the guy who comes up with the idea but the guy who turns that idea into something people can use.

He goes on to say that you don't want to be first with new technology or ideas and offers Apple as proof of that. You know; he's right. Not only was Apple not first to market with any of its products, but the later it enters, the more successful its products seem to be.

After all, MP3 players, smartphones, and tablets had all been around for ages before Apple introduced the iPod, iPhone, and iPad.

Indeed, in How Small Changes Can Produce Big Breakthroughs, we discussed how ...
  1. Innovation isn't a "supernatural event - a preordained occurrence that only happens to certain people."
  2. Great innovators "... don't go from zero-to-great in a heartbeat. More often than not, they stand on the shoulders of giants, see things a little bit differently, or benefit from timing, opportunity, or luck."
Innovators as diverse as Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, and Howard Schultz have all stood on the shoulders of giants while adding their own unique insights to bring innovation to the world. That's because great innovators don't see different things; they see the same things differently. For example:
  • Not to diminish Einstein's genius in any way, but the notion of matter and energy being related in some way had been around for some time. What was missing was the role of light, and Einstein, for whatever reason, was fascinated with light. He's famous for deriving E=MC2, but special relativity is more about Einstein's thought experiments and unique perspective than anything else.
  • As for Jobs's expertise, he's certainly more of a marketer than a technologist. In his seminal book Marketing High Technology, former Intel marketing and sales chief Bill Davidow says, "Marketing must invent complete products and drive them to commanding positions in defensible market segments." That's what Jobs does with every product he launches.
  • Innovation isn't all about science or high technology, either. YouTube, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter are all innovative platforms but I'm not aware of there being any particular technological breakthroughs.
  • Clearly, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has been the coffee industry's big innovator of the past 20 years, but it's not as if he invented the coffee bean or anything. And nobody's going to tell me that McDonald's makes the best burgers, Subway makes the tastiest subs, or SuperCuts gives killer haircuts, but their businesses are all innovative.
So, when you think about innovation, try to remember what it really means: "The introduction of something new." There are innovators in every field and every discipline. They're not typically academics, nerds, or propeller heads. And while some do physics and high-tech gadgets, others come up with Southpark and Chia Pets.

And when you've got an idea for something, anything, and some moron says, "all the good ideas are taken," or "everything that can be invented has been invented," just make the sign of the "loser" on your forehead and remember that some innovative guy came up with that, too.

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Image courtesy Joseph Enterprises, home of the world famous Chia Pet

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