What is Innovation?

innovationInnovation is the ability to see change as an opportunity – not a threat. – Steve Jobs

I call innovation one of the “i” words, like imagination, inspiration, intuition and illumination, it is a process that rises from an expanded state of awareness. I’ve long thought these five words should replace the three “r”s as the focus of our schools.

Innovation is defined as introducing something new, be it a new idea, method or device. I remember hearing an interview with Steve Jobs where he described inventing the floppy drive; the way he spoke of trying lots of different strategies before it finally worked.

Malcolm Gladwell, author of the Tipping Point, has identified two types of innovators. The rare conceptual innovators like Picasso who burst on the scene in the early 1900s and revolutionized how we think about art. And the much more prevalent experimental innovators like Cezanne, who worked endlessly by trial and error to find the look that captured his vision.

Picasso dazzled the European art world as a young man with his sudden passion to show a new way to do things; Cezanne’s masterpieces did not come until he was in his 50s and then they came in a rush when 40 of his most famous works were produced in a few years.

I think it helps to understand how innovation works. Like creativity, innovation is usually a process that involves trial and error as well as a learning curve. So many think that this is the domain of a select few rather than a possibility for everyone.

Now more than ever we need people willing to exercise their natural ability to innovate. And it is not restricted to the arts or technology. The development of microlending to help people in the third world to become self reliant is an innovation.

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