Transcript of my talk at TEDx Live event at Pune on 28 April 2017
Friends, I am here to share with you a secret – a secret recipe. It took me ten years to figure this out – it is a collective learning from coaching about a thousand innovators – I will share with you, in the next ten minutes, how to grow your idea into an innovation.
1.1 The challenge of converting ideas into innovations – the fear of rejection
Most of us are reasonably good at spotting a good idea – but not all good ideas become innovation – innovation seems be a totally different animal. If you start with a hundred good ideas, can you guess how many will convert to successful innovation? It is hardly two or three – the conversion is very poor. Of the many barriers to converting ideas into innovation, I would like to take up the most powerful one. It is the fear of rejection – the fear of being laughed at for suggesting a crazy idea. How do we overcome this barrier?
1.2 The Logical Brain Vs the Creative Brain
Let us look at how a typical idea generation exercise – a brainstorming session is conducted. I remember, I was fresh out of IISc with a Ph.D degree and a bag full of ideas at that time. I happened to sit next to an expert during the brainstorming session. I had great regard for the expert and I wanted to get his views before I share my ideas with others – I didn’t want to run the risk of being laughed at. The expert kept shooting down my ideas – citing valid reasons like lack of feasibility, viability etc. Very soon, I went blank – after three consecutive rejections, I could no longer create a new idea. My self-esteem was at an all-time low. I thought that I should not sit next to the expert the next time. But, friends, these are not two individuals that can be separated – this is the cognitive dialogue that takes place all the time between the logical and creative hemispheres of your brain (popularly referred to as the left and the right brains). So how do we keep the logical brain quite for some time, so that that creative brain can generate a few fresh ideas without any inhibition?
1.3 How to Zap your Logical Brain
Let us do an exercise of generating ideas while keep our logical brains zapped. Our logical brains won’t understand illogical situations – so the clue is to work in an illogical situation so that the logical brain cannot reject the ideas. Let us say we want ideas for designing an innovative school. What are the common assumptions that you would make about a school – we need a building, a teacher, books, students etc to run a school. Now pose the questions what if I don’t have a building ? what if I don’t have teachers ? what if I don’t have books ? what if I don’t have students ? – when you reverse the common assumptions, you are in a territory that is unfamiliar to your logical brain. Now you generate ideas – so what if I don’t have a building – I will run my school in a park, I will run my school in an old bus or train compartment, I will run my school online etc. So what if I don’t have teachers – I will use videos, senior students can teach junior students, parents can volunteer as teachers, I will let the students to work in team and experiment and learn from each other etc. if you observe what we are doing here – we are generating many ideas in an unconstrained manner – the creative brain is working at full steam without being hindered by the logical brain. The logical brain is busy figuring out what we are trying to do – why the hell does he want to run a school with teacher – have you gone crazy – no one has ever run a school without a teacher – ignore him, he has gone crazy! Thus, the trick to zap the logical brain is to reverse the assumptions and then generate ideas. These ideas would have easily got shot down by the logical brain otherwise.
1.4 CREATE – Think divergent
To further generate more ideas, we could use divergent thinking tools. One such example is CREATE – let us say that you want to create innovative variants of this pen – you ask what can I combine (maybe a LED, a stylus, a USB storage etc), what can I rearrange , what can I enhance (cartridge life, aesthetics etc), what can I adapt from elsewhere (what can I adapt from nature) what can I turn around (reverse – can the pen be stationary and the paper move) and what can I eliminate (can I make a pen that does not need ink)? CREATE is an acronym that will trigger your divergent thinking and put you in six different directions. Remember - good ideation happens in two distinct phases – divergent followed by convergent thinking.
1.5 Make your idea work within the constraints
Now that you have a bunch of ideas, the next step for you is to recognize the real-life constraints under which the idea is to work. If you recognize the constraints early, then you get the opportunity to shape your idea in the right direction. I derive my inspiration to overcome constraints from a story from the Hindu mythology where an evil-minded Rakshasa (demon) asks God for a boon that he become immortal – God says that it is the law of nature that everybody born will die – ask for anything else. The smart Rakshasa asks for a series of boons that will make him almost immortal – I should not be killed by a human or animal, I should not be killed in the day or in the night, I should not be killed on the floor or in mid space, I should not be killed inside the building or outside the building, I should not be killed by any known weapons – surprisingly, God grants all these boons. The Rakshasa becomes over confident and arrogant and starts harassing the people – the people pray to God to Kill the Rakshasa and save their lives. Now God needs to design around these five strong constraints to kill the evil Rakshasa – he comes up with an innovative plan. He comes as a lion-man (Narasimha) at the dusk time (neither day nor night), drags the Rakshasa to the doorstep (neither inside nor outside), puts him on his lap (neither on floor nor in mid space) and rips him apart with his claws (no weapon). God could work around such severe constraints and create an innovative solution. There is nothing to worry about constraints – you only need to recognize them and factor them while evolving your idea.
1.6 Innovation Flow
Now, I wish to introduce a simple framework that you can use to grow your idea into an innovation. I call it FLOW – after the three stages involved in the process – Focus, Leap & Orient and What’s next. The Focus phase is all about studying the opportunity space, gathering insights and formulating the right problem. Next step is for your mind, that is full of past ideas, to create space for new ideas – we call this phase the Leap. You have to let go your old ideas (though they faithfully worked for you in the past) and take the bold leap into the space of new ideas. The analogy here is the performance of the trapeze artist in a circus. She lets go her swing and takes the leap – but she has to orient herself towards the opposite swing and grab it at the precise moment. Leap is always accompanied by Orient – simultaneous events. Leap – Orient can be letting go one technology and orienting towards the next-gen technology – the classical transition of the S-curves. And finally, What’s next – how is technology changing, how is the market need changing – what will be different in the next five to ten years? Define the next problem. Thus the innovator has to take his idea systematically though the three phases – Focus – (Leap & Orient) – What’s next. If there is one thing that I want you to remember and appy from this talk, it is FLOW. FLOW provides you a structured approach to grow your idea into innovation.
1.7 Key Takeaways
Friends, I would boldly say that Innovation is no rocket science. We can all innovate.
· Explore your crazy side – for every 8 logical ideas that you pursue, try at least 2 crazy ideas.
· To give a break to your logical brain and consciously give the control to your creative brain - Challenge the assumptions. Ask What If.
· Don’t rush to convergence without spending sufficient time thinking divergently.
· Recognize the constraints early and use this knowledge to shape the idea in the right direction.
· Be agile and respond to changing technology and changing market needs – don’t get stuck to your idea (even if it works well).
Have lot of fun.