The Innovation Attitude

“Thus, the task is not so much to see what no one yet has seen, but to think what nobody yet has thought about that which everybody sees.” –Schopenhauer

That Schopenhauer quote underlines a key aspect of creativity – the ability to see something new within the familiar – and sometimes the not-so-familiar. Remember:

• Light bulbs weren’t invented by exploring candles
• Iron ships weren’t made by exploring wood boats
• Skyscrapers weren’t designed by exploring bungalows
• Walkmans weren’t invented by exploring turntables
• Cell phones weren’t conceived by exploring land lines

A recent study by the Small Business Administration found that small firms produce more economically and technically important innovations than larger firms. Small firms and individuals invented the Mac and the PC, the stainless-steel razor, the transistor radio, the jet engine, and the self-developing photograph (remember those Polaroids?).

One individual came up with the graphical interface that launched the World Wide Web.

What is the entrepreneurial “secret” for creating innovative value in the marketplace? In reality, the “secret” is no secret at all: it is applying creativity and innovation to solve problems and to exploit opportunities that people face every day. Creativity is the ability to develop new ideas and to discover new ways of looking at problems and opportunities. Innovation is the ability to apply creative solutions to those problems and opportunities to enhance or enrich peoples’ lives.

There’s definitely an idea out there. Maybe you’ll spot it by seeing how others tackle problems and find solutions. In the 1950s, fast-food restaurants added drive-through lanes to serve car-loving customers. Banks and dry-cleaners soon borrowed the same idea. Today, all types of businesses use drive-throughs. The Little White Wedding Chapel in Las Vegas offers drive-through ceremonies. Loma Linda Medical Center gives flu shots while patients sit in cars. Seigl’s Lumber Yard has drive-through lanes for tools and materials.

The hypercarbon now used in tennis rackets was first developed to stabilize satellites. Home smoke detectors and scratch-resistant lenses also stemmed from space-industry applications.

In his book Get Back in the Box, Douglas Rushkoff views open collaboration as an important strategy that creates a tie to innovation. He believes this approach will lead to revolutionizing industries worldwide. It “requires willingness to challenge and even rewrite the most accepted tenets underlying our industries, and to invite our employees and even our customers to engage in that process with us. This is the real meaning of open source and the surest path to a sustained ‘culture of innovation’.”
Often, a genuinely successful solution can be discovered by entertaining non-traditional ideas. But not just because the idea was non-traditional. When Linux group was considering how to keep from being swallowed up in the Microsoft world, someone suggested, “Let’s make it free.” A crazy idea, but they did it. 3M made a new adhesive that didn’t stick very well. Instead of discarding it, they built a whole industry on it. And the Post-it Note was born.
Shawn Fanning saw the Internet and his vast music collection and figured out a way to share his music with others around the world (Napster); Panos Panay sought for a way to bring music performers together with talent buyers and Sonic Bids was born; Derek Sivers needed a way to distribute his band’s CD when every major distribution company refused to do it, and CDBaby was launched.
So why does one creative person succeeds while another struggles? Some reasons favoring success include:
• A keen understanding of the marketplace
• Abundant self-knowledge
• The right combination of integrity and cooperation
• Willingness of others to work with you (based on track record industry reputation, personality, quality of the opportunity)
• The ability to raise necessary resources and /or support
Some think you have to be a maverick in order to innovate. After all, there have been geniuses that have not gone the standard educational route and not only succeeded, but turned their respective disciplines on their ears, right?
Take Albert Einstein. Didn’t he fail mathematics in high school? Actually, no – that ’s a myth. Albert not only did well in math, but taught himself Euclidean plane geometry by using a booklet from school. He also taught himself calculus. The myth about his having failed math or algebra in high school is a misinterpretation of grading system numbers from his school records. This Einstein myth is perpetuated because it supports our desire to believe that “gifted” individuals don’t have to learn the rules, much less follow them.
What about Mozart? Didn’t he write his first concerto at four, a symphony at seven and an opera at twelve? Yes, but that didn’t mean he did it without learning the basics of music. He was born into a family of musicians; his father tutored him relentlessly from the age of three and trained him in organ, harpsichord and violin. And he still wasn’t “successful” during his lifetime, by most professional, financial or personal standards. But he didn’t do his great music just from his personal genius without education; he simply didn’t get musical education in school.
What about Leonard da Vinci? He was the original Renaissance man, a multi-faceted genius: painter, inventor, engineer and scientist. Many of those pursuits were self-taught, to be sure. But to become a painter he was apprenticed to Verrocchio, a prominent master painter of Florence. You had better believe that he was not exempted from doing all the drudgery and work that apprentices normally did.
Too bad! Three perfectly good myths gone up in a puff of facts! One of the sad truths of life that any aspiring artist must face is that EVERY creative field requires learning. Masters of the arts often make them look easy, but they aren’t. These achievers are often ten year “overnight success stories.” Everyone has to learn the basics thoroughly. Quite often that fundamental learning is not fun or exciting. But it is a necessary foundation on which any creative career must be built.
Peter Spellman is Director of Berklee’s Career Development Center and author of several career-building books. This article is excerpted from his new work, Indie Business Power: A Step-By-Step Guide for 21st Century Music Entrepreneurs.



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