I’m always studying the world’s greatest innovators. From Apple’s Steve Jobs to Tesla’s Elon Musk, we can admire and emulate some of the practices that inspire creativity. Whether you are looking to boost your own innovative spirit, create an innovative team, or power your creative genius, you may find that regularly reading and studying others sparks new ideas.
“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” –Steve Jobs
One spark may be a new book by George Barbee.
63 Innovation Nuggets (for aspiring innovators) is a practical guide to boosting your innovation. George Barbee developed these nuggets during the span of his 45 year career as an entrepreneur and corporate leader. For the last 15 years, George has taught at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business.
I recently spoke with George about his many decades of teaching and living the subject of innovation.
“An innovative network can change the culture of an organization.” -George Barbee
Don’t Underestimate Your Ability to Innovate
George, I have heard you say, “Yes, Steve Jobs is a genius, but what about innovating for the rest of us?” What exactly do you mean by that?
Steve was in fact a true genius of “Invention.” He could imagine what people needed and wanted even before they realized it or could verbalize it themselves. He could see around corners into the future.
But I believe most of the rest of us way underestimate our ability to “innovate”—especially with focus on techniques and methods within our control to improve this skill. And yes, it is a skill and an art, not an innate ability or something we are necessarily born with. I’ve witnessed this in my business career and the last 15 years teaching at University of Virginia, and interestingly across 40 countries. It’s a major theme underlying the book.
“Invention” is part of the broader scope of “innovation.” In fact, only a slice.
For example, the rest of us can be gifted and train ourselves to “innovate” in new and different ways. Key to the word “innovation” is doing something in a “meaningfully new and different way.” This takes us well beyond just product invention, but “innovation” now incorporates anything that is new and meaningfully different.
In the book we talk about dozens of “nuggets” or little gems that provide insights as to how to innovate. It is, in fact, remarkably easy to develop these skills. Like exercising a good muscle, the more you use it and focus on it, the better it gets. It’s a form of building innovative confidence through practice.
It’s learnable. It’s teachable.
Make Observation and Art
Of the 63 nuggets in 63 Innovation Nuggets, do you have one that is a favorite?
That’s a tough question. I started with over 140 nuggets and in an effort to winnow it down to 52 (one per week) I couldn’t bring myself to cut any more, so I went with 63. Not necessarily brilliant, but sincere.
So, a favorite? Well, not necessarily only one favorite but it’s a good place to start: Nugget #19: Observing as an Art. The power and concentration it takes to observe what is around us is quite challenging. As we say, put yourself in “receive mode.” Just take things in around you. Listen. Look. Smell. Maybe even feel and taste. We observe with all our senses. This is time out to THINK. The key is sensing. Thinking.
“Successful innovators have a keen sense of observation.” -George Barbee
We go on to encourage note taking. Practice alone or with a like-minded friend and confidant. Have some fun with the process.
We then go on to tell some stories about observing. Practical situations where innovation around us is often under our noses, but we haven’t taken the time out to appreciate it or document it. One example is ATM or teller lines at banks. It used to be that we would go up to one of three tellers or machines and pick one and hope for the best. Woe to the person picking the wrong line! The tendency was then to hop over to the faster moving line. Then came the great innovation in line management—the “I” formation, or lining up in a single line, with the front person going to the next available opening. Brilliant. It takes the early guesswork out of picking the right single line. Happier customers. True Innovation.