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The Secret of Innovation? It All Comes Down to Ideas

ideasA recent article on CNN.com, "Learn the five secrets of innovation," by Mark Tutton, focuses on the results of a six-year study conducted by professors from Harvard Business School, Insead and Brigham Young University. 3,000 executives and 500 innovative entrepreneurs were involved in the study, which also included interviews with the likes of Jeff Bezos (Amazon) and Michael Dell (Dell Computers).

The results of the study are hardly earth shattering. But they are important for anyone interested in developing their innovation chops and enjoying the resulting rewards.

The verdict? "Coming up with brilliant, game-changing ideas is what makes the likes of Apple's Steve Jobs so successful..."

Stating the obvious? Well maybe not to everyone.

Business leaders around the world are struggling to crack the code of innovation. They focus on re-structuring, re-invention, short-sighted innovation initiatives, revolving door consultants, creativity boot camps, etc.

But apparently what it all comes down to is the ability to generate great ideas. Do that well, and all the other stuff more easily falls into place - if for no other reason than the fact that you are generating great ideas about those things, too.

 

From "Learn the five secrets of innovation," by Mark Tutton, CNN.com

 

According to the study, there are 5 key skills necessary to be a prolific innovator (a.k.a. idea-generator) - associating, questioning, observing, experimenting and discovering.

It seems these skills have more to do with how one acts as how one thinks. Prolific innovators are always proactively searching for new ideas, new connections, new perspectives. Theirs is not a passive activity; they don't sit around waiting for the Muse to visit or the lightning bolt to strike. They pursue ideas daily and relentlessly.

It is this skill set, this business activity, that will forever more be the definer of success.

So how can you ensure you have a whole army of Steve Jobses generating innovative thinking in your organization?

Remove the impediments and allow it to happen. Create an environment that facilitates idea-generation. Nourish it with acknowledgment, training, tools - and rewards for achievement. In a recent post here, "Google's 80/20 Formula - It can work for you!" we briefly described Google's take on the issue... encourage employees to spend 80% of their time on core projects, and 20% of their time on “innovation” activities that peak their own personal interests.

How much does your organization to do foster innovative thinking? Do you invest 20% in it, like Google does? If you did, what returns might you realize?

The ability to generate innovative thinking is not an inherent trait; it is based on a set of skills that anyone can learn and develop. Exposing yourself to new ideas and observing the world around you can drive innovation.

All it takes is doing it. As one of the men behind the study, Insead's Hal Gregersen, put it, "Studies have shown that creativity is close to 80 percent learned and acquired," he told CNN. "We found that it's like exercising your muscles -- if you engage in the actions you build the skills."

Start building your innovation muscles now. And watch the ideas start to flow.

After all, when you cut through all the hype and Ivy-tower debate, innovation at its core is really just a child's game of connecting the dots in new and imaginative ways.