We are a race of innovators – born to use our imagination to create not only solutions to our most pressing problems (polio vaccine) but to also create the fun in our lives (pet rocks). We only have to look as far as our kids to rediscover that fundamental draw to use our imagination to create something out of nothing. What I call the game of innovation.
Children are naturally superb innovators. They can create the most amazing toys from normal household items. Who would have thought of all the uses for a paper towel roll? This was brought home to me recently by my oldest daughter, a Speech-Language Pathologist who works with preschool children with special needs. She has my wife, and I saved all of our empty paper towel rolls for “her kids”.
What we as adults see as trash, they see as baseball bats, lightsabers, telescopes, etc. The reason young children can be so expressive—so imaginative — is they don’t know or care how they look. They do not know conformity. What adults would call “cute” or “silly” has no bearing on their imagination.
The Game of Innovation
When we grow older, we admire bold thinking. Revolution is chic. Trendsetters are idolized. It is demeaning to be called unoriginal, conventional, or traditional (boring). We thrill at the idea of being the one that breaks the rule, being the one that creates the next big thing.
But many people have a hard time seeing themselves in that role. In growing up, they lost that ability to see themselves as creative. They believe that creativity is some kind of gift from God and that others have it but not them. These mistaken assumptions, half-truths, misplaced generalities, and habits keep them from being able to create truly brilliant innovations. If they believe they are not creative, they will not try to be creative.
Everyone Is Creative
I don’t buy into the “gift” of thinking. Everyone is born with the ability to be creative. I’ve seen it repeatedly that once I’ve helped someone unlock their own ability to be creative, they create amazing things. What is it that holds most people back from breaking out from this “old think”?
- Never having been taught the basic skill of creativity. Yes, it is a skill that anyone can learn, practice, and become proficient at.
- Worrying about creating a stupid idea. Instead, they develop concepts using old thinking that sounds sensible, sounds safe, that has an outcome that is most likely an incremental improvement or, worst, a failure.
To find that internal spark, we need to learn the skill of creativity and innovation (subject of the +120 show catalog in the Killer Innovations podcast) while also rediscovering that child-like curiosity—that child-like imagination to look stupid and not care. What we “know” is a greater obstacle than what we don’t know.
But clearing our minds of our old thinking habits is as difficult as pushing all the air out of a room. Minds, like nature, cannot sustain a vacuum. Something must displace those old habits. To create a killer idea, you need to drop your prejudice of what “sounds right” and create truly new ideas – ideas that will most likely sound absolutely stupid. You need to engage in the game of innovation.
So the next time you hear a stupid idea, catch yourself from immediately dismissing it and ask if you are applying “old think”. Recognizing your own biases is the first step in the recovery process, from being creatively boring to becoming a revolutionary.
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