Managing INNOVATION – The Inside Perspective
“Ideas shape the course of history,” John Maynard Keynes
Innovation is the process of generating and implementing ideas so as to create wealth from under-utilized or un-utilized resources through exploration and exploitation of the potential creativity of the individual or group of minds. Innovations may arise in several ways:
- from new situations confronted by humans, and/or
- from new knowledge generated about existing situations, and/or
- from available knowledge being put together in new and imaginative ways (generally not predicated in the original) to generate new knowledge or to create novel products and processes.
Broadly, innovation is the result of the purposeful and creative exercise of the human imagination. It is the outcome of some structured synthesis of intuitions, insights and inspirations. Innovation may often come about by accident – but even so it comes about only when a ‘prepared mind’ sees and understands the potential innovation when the idea for it strikes.
Mental Models and Innovation:
What is a mental model?
Our minds automatically form some kind of ‘representations’ about the realities we confront. This is a continuous and ongoing process whether we are awake or sleeping. The pictures created by our minds in response to reality are called ‘mental models’.
Mental models held depend on both the reality confronted and the background and experience of the person holding the mental model. Mental models are nothing but the representations in the mind of perceptions, thoughts, intuitions, insights… Nurturing new frames of reference derived during the continuous interaction between perceptions, intuitions and insights results in the creation of new mental models.
Creating graphical pictures of mental models held in our minds, like the one illustrated above – clearly showing the relationships between the elements of the picture – can provide many significant benefits to individuals and to groups seeking to innovate.
In general, the construction of such graphical pictures of our mental models can significantly enhance the clarity of thinking by individuals and groups about various complex issues. Enhanced clarity of thinking tends to enhance the effectiveness of communication between individuals and groups. In the specific context of creativity and innovation, the construction of such graphical models significantly aides both clarity and communication, through a process broadly a combination in prose and in pictures.
Einstein explained the Theory of Relativity by using new mental models – simple pictures describing people ‘traveling through time and space in different frames of reference’ – and it is believed that he even came to understand the Theory of Relativity for himself through creating such mental models.
From Mental Models to Innovation:
Innovations arise from the mental model(s) held by the individual or by the group, as represented in the following graphics. The first model is a picture representing the following prose sentence:
“Development of existing Mental Models could lead to Innovation”
“Exploration of existing Mental Models vis-à-vis the reality confronted could lead to Development of existing Mental Models, which, in turn, could lead to Innovation”.
To begin with, our ideas for any innovation are likely to be rather vague: we are more or less ‘groping in the dark’. The creation of such graphical pictures of mental models as generically illustrated above helps us, in due course, to explore and clarify our ideas in the depth and the detail required (we are all aware that “the devil is in the details”!).
The well-known process of ‘mind mapping’ (of Tony Buzan and others) is, in fact, a simple ‘mind-tool’ to help the clarification of mental models through graphical pictures – however; this has not been quite sufficient to meet the needs.
Changing our Mental Models: Closed Mind vs. Open Mind
Initially, our ideas may even be ‘wrong’ or ‘misdirected’: often, our initial wrong ideas on an issue could lead to the ‘right’ ideas. As we explore our mental models, our minds as ‘learning systems’ would automatically tend to correct the errors and mis-directions in the initial models. Such an ability to correct itself is an intrinsic characteristic of the human mind – however, we do need at all times to present the mind with the clearest possible pictures of the realities confronted to enable such self-correction to be done effectively.
What we need to do is to enable the open mind to ‘see’ its own ideas with utmost clarity. Graphical pictures of the reality confronted by the mind and described by its mental models could help enhance the clarity with which the mind is able to ‘perceive’ the complex reality it confronts, correct itself as needed, and thus find the right direction. Further, such pictures would also directly aid innovation per se because graphical pictures can be powerful stimulators of human imagination.
One essential requirement here is the ‘open mind’. If the mind is tightly ‘closed’, then nothing can get in, and no innovation can take place. If the mind is open, then the whole world is available for its explorations (“Closed Mind vs. Open Mind”). However, appropriate tools are required that can help the open mind to alter and correct its mental models.
Linear Thinking vs. Multi-linear Thinking:
To create and innovate, we need to look at things from different angles, diverse perspectives. But the conventional ‘prose mode’ of thinking that has been drilled into our minds through the educational system usually hinders approaches that could lead to creativity and innovation. The ‘graphical mode of thinking’, which enables multi-linear thinking, helps us to look at things from a multi-dimensional perspective, as we all used to do when we were children. (For example, check out the way a little child asks questions, often jumping from one topic to another, seemingly at random – but actually dictated by the needs of his or her own mental models driving the unrelenting process of growth and development. This ‘question-asking’ is obviously not a linear process at all – in fact, the question-asking frame of mind that all children possess is the very heart and soul of creativity).
Linear thinking is the ‘standard’ rational, rule-based way of looking at things. Linearity is characterized by sequential occurrence of events; it is usually driven by simple ‘rules’; linearity is generally driven by simple rules of rational logic.
Examples of linear processes: 1+1 = 2 (and most of arithmetic);
Prose may be described as fundamentally ‘linear in structure’ because it follows the construction rule illustrated in the thumbnail sketch at left alongside. However, real life is not linear at all – it is inherently ‘multi-linear’; multi-linearity is also illustrated alongside to contrast with the model of linearity seen in prose. We want to observe here that our educational systems have trained us very well in the ‘prose (or linear) mode’ of thinking – and have barely ever sought to inculcate the multi-linear mode of thinking that is required for innovation.
Multi-linear thinking is the integration of rational, creative and perceptive processes (going beyond standard rules) – enabling the mind to look at things with a ‘fresh’ perspective.
Multi-linearity need not have a sequential occurrence of events; rules, if any, that drive multi-linearity are not at all simple (and they may not easily be even discover-able); multi-linearity involves aspects of perceptions, creativity which may be bundled with more complex forms of logic.
Examples of multi-linear processes:
- changes in weather, which cannot easily be forecasted
- creativity and other processes of the human mind, which cannot be bound by any rules that we know
- the phenomenon of ‘inspiration’ which is complexly linked to the mind’s inherent powers of creativity and also to the prior experiences and understandings of the ‘inspired person’, and to other subtle things that we may not even be able to describe.
Innovation is serendipity, so you don’t know what people will make.