How to increase innovation
Innovation isn’t a magical phenomena.
Yes, there is such a thing as the Eureka effect or the ‘Aha-Erlebnis’. But what you don’t see are the countless hours – sometimes months and years – that have led to that moment. Hours spent reflecting, experimenting and learning.
Innovation is both a cumulative and sudden effect. The temperature rises to a slow boil until the tipping point is reached. But the tipping point will never be reached unless there is sustained effort.
At the heart of that effort is the learning process.
For innovation to happen, it is essential that the person – be they an entrepreneur, engineer or scientist – be continuously learning. You need to be acquiring new knowledge so that you can make connections that isn’t obvious. It’s also important to be learning from changing evidence on the ground. If something isn’t working, what direction should we move in?
Lifelong learning in business
Business is a competitive endeavour. In a competition, competitors have to perform at their best to win.
Currently, we are in a knowledge economy and we are gradually transitioning into a creative one. In both of these economies, it is the intellectual capital of the individual and group that determines how well a company will perform. The only way to increase that intellectual capacity and be competitive is through lifelong learning.
Innovation and learning
If our goal is to increase innovation through learning, we need to first do three things:
- Unravel what constitutes the core of learning
- Establish the link between learning, curiosity, creativity and innovation
- Explore how curiosity and creativity can be fostered
The core of learning
Learning has different aspects, but it’s most commonly associated with our memory. Memory is important, but it’s not at the root of all learning. To find the root, you simply have to look at how the best learners in the world operate – babies.
Babies have an insatiable appetite to learn. They explore the feel, taste, and smell of different objects around them. They want to figure out how things work. They’re interested in practically everything, even the mundane. As they get older, they become interested in human relations. They want to find out why things are the way they are.
This desire to know is called curiosity.
This innate trait is a means by which humans use to collect information about their environment. And it’s a trait that’s essential for learning. In order to learn effectively, you have to first have the desire to know and to understand. Memorizing facts comes after.
With this desire, you have the motivation to seek out answers to your questions.
Without this motivation, you won’t feel inclined to do a deeper investigation into the true nature of something.
The curious link
We know curiosity is what informs learning – that’s the first link in the chain. If our end goal is innovation, what comes before it?
Before innovation happens, there is a creative process that is used to produce insights and solve problems.
In other words, creativity is what informs innovation. Creativity and innovation are linked.
The next logical question is what produces creativity?
To produce new insights and solve problems (or be creative), a person has to to do a few things:
- Identify the true nature of the problem
- Explore current knowledge about how to solve it
- Develop different perspectives to tackling the problem (insights)
- Test and experiment
At all 4 of these stages of creativity, the individual or group has to be continuously learning. They have to be acquiring knowledge, both through the written word and by what they produce through experimentation.
This shows how learning and creativity are linked. You can’t have creativity without learning.
Creative problem-solving demands that you acquire the relevant knowledge. When you go a step further, you see that curiosity is also an essential part of creativity. Without a deep fascination towards a problem and the desire to solve it, it’s unlikely that you will produce relevant insights.
Often times, it is the moments when one is not engaged in active work that these insights appear. But that only happens when an individual is fixated on solving the problem – that is, they are highly curious about it.
So the way learning and innovation are linked is as follows:
Curiosity about a problem > Learning and experimentation > Creative solutions > Innovation
Fixed vs growth mindset
When it comes to learning – be that in academics or business – you will come up against the idea of ‘growth’ vs ‘fixed’ mindset.
Pioneered by Carol Dweck, a growth mindset represents the idea that an individual can learn anything. What we are capable of isn’t genetically fixed – particularly when it comes to knowledge work or developing skills. This type of mindset is positive and optimistic about an individuals potential. It sees intelligence and the human brain as a flexible canvas that can be built and improved on. Instead of intelligence and learning being genetic, it’s more about:
- How much effort an individual puts into study
- Deliberate practice – learning in the most optimized way
- Having character traits such as grit, persistence, and the desire to learn
Typically, someone with a growth mindset will:
- See problems as an interesting challenge – A complex problem is seen as something that can be solved, it’s just about figuring out how. It’s also seen as an opportunity for growth as opposed to a roadblock.
- Be more interested in learning – Learning comes best when an individual is curious about something. But if they believe they are unable to learn, they won’t be likely to pursue it.
- Be more ambitious – A growth mindset represents the idea that it’s possible to learn anything. This empowers individuals with a means to achieve their potential.
The fixed mindset represents the opposite. More negative in its nature, the fixed mindset argues that our ability to learn or be intelligent is innate or determined in early childhood.
People with a fixed mindset to learning have these qualities:
- Have a negative attitude towards learning – They don’t believe learning is possible for them and feel demotivated about it.
- Manifest other negative traits – A fixed mindset goes beyond learning new skills. If an individual believes they can’t change themselves, they won’t be growing as a person. This means they may have character flaws that go unaddressed.
Proponents of the fixed mindset believe people can’t learn certain things – at least nowhere as fast as others. This is a problem you may contend with, particularly when it comes to new hires or reskilling mature workers.
Naturally, employees with a growth mindset will make better workers.
So what’s the truth? As always, somewhere in the middle.
We do have genetic limitations to our memory, ability to concentrate and neural processing speed. But at the same time, most people don’t take the necessary steps to put in the work that allows them to reach their limits. There is a genetic limit to ‘intelligence’, but it shouldn’t hold somebody back from learning. Our brains have an amazing capacity to learn and improve, and we’re only just starting to discover it’s potential.
If you have team members that have a fixed mindset, the most important thing you can do for them is to increase their confidence and help transition them to a growth mindset.
The best way to help them do this is through:
- Showing them the science behind it
- Creating a pressure-free environment – If you try to force learning onto someone with a fixed mindset, they can become more entrenched in their beliefs. You need to give them the space to develop the mindset themselves.
- Easing them into learning – A huge part of the growth mindset is your confidence in your ability to learn. Sometimes, people need to slowly regain their confidence through positive, incremental experiences.
- Recognising their learning milestones – Ensure that they are recognised for their progress so that they develop positive feelings towards learning.
Creating a culture of learning
In this part, we spoke about how learning drives innovation. In the next part, we will take a look at practical strategies to achieve this in a business context. We’ll touch on how your different teams should be learning, increasing engagement and creating channels of employee feedback.
If you would like hands-on help, we offer a 2 day transformation boot camp. We will help you develop your corporate strategy and show you how to create a culture of learning.