My innovation education started many years back when I read that the three essential components of Innovation are Expertise, Creativity and Motivation (I guess it was in an HBR article by Teresa Amabile). This thought has been reiterated by other innovation experts over the years. However, while practising innovation, I had a major challenge in balancing expertise and creativity. In areas where i had significant expertise, I was unable to entertain creative ideas (my left brain rushed to filter out those early stage ideas). In areas where I had no expertise, I could boldly think and come up with many creative ideas - but i had limited success in taking the ideas forward as I had limited domain knowledge and expertise.
If you ask, which is the most important among the three, then you get mixed response. This is primarily because the question is incomplete if you do not specify the context. For instance, between incremental and radical innovation, the role played by these three factors are significantly different. Today, i brought this up as an open ended question in the Innovation Management class that i teach at Symbiosis. I gave each student ten points and asked them to distribute between the three - i got cumulative scores of 70 for knowledge and 90 each for creativity and motivation.
In the context of creating disruptive innovations, what role does expertise play ? Do we need Experts ? When do we need them ? How should we use them ?
I came across two apparently opposing views from the experts - Navin Jain (Founder, World Innovation Institute) and Max Marmer (Founder, Startup Genome). In a sense, they both are right. I have made an attempt to analyse and place these two views in the right perspective.
"while experts will have a part to play where incremental evolution is needed, non-expert individuals will drive disruptive innovation" (Navin Jain).
Navin Jain believes that people who will come up with creative solutions to solve the world’s biggest problems — ecological devastation, global warming, the global debt crisis and distribution of dwindling natural resources, to name a few — will NOT be experts in their fields. The real disruptors will be those individuals who are not steeped in one industry of choice, with those coveted 10,000 hours of experience (Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell), but instead, individuals who approach challenges with a clean lens, bringing together diverse experiences, knowledge and opportunities. And while experts will have a part to play in solving today’s looming crises where incremental evolution is needed, he believes that non-expert individuals will drive disruptive innovation.
I could see where Navin is coming from as I have helplessly watched experts disrupting the evolution of disruptive ideas in the growth ideation sessions that I facilitated. It took me a while to handle these disruptive forces in my ideation sessions. I knew that the experts' intentions were good and all that I had to do was to restructure my sessions and delay the participation of experts.