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The Innovator's Handbook
If you’ve been following along with this newsletter and podcast, you’ll know that innovation is a favorite topic. I’ve written about it before:
I’ve also reviewed several books about innovation, including The Myths of Innovation and How Innovation Works. So I obviously enjoy reading and writing about innovation. Partly because it is a complex topic and partly because it is so important to what so many of us are doing.
We’re attempting to create things that are new, better, and valuable.
Innovation is creating something new, better, and valuable.
So I was excited last year when Hussain Almossawi let me know he had written a book about innovation—The Innovator’s Handbook—drawing on his experience and the experience of others to draw lessons on innovation and creation.
The book is a guide, based on Hussain’s experience, that aims to help individuals and organizations foster innovation and create successful new products, services, and business models. And, of course, it’s structured around key principles and strategies that are essential for driving innovation.
Hussain and I had the opportunity to sit down and chat earlier this year about his book, as well as some of the key points he makes. It was a wide-ranging conversation, exploring the necessity of experimentation, iteration, and brainstorming without constraints in the industry, along with thoughtful discussions on biomimicry, diversity, and first principles.
You’ll definitely want to check out the whole discussion, but we’ll focus on a few main points from the book here.
In the book, cultivating curiosity is a cornerstone of fostering an innovation mindset. Hussain argues that curiosity drives individuals and organizations to ask questions, explore new possibilities, and challenge the status quo. This open-mindedness and willingness to seek new knowledge and experiences are essential for driving innovation.
In the book, and on the podcast, we discussed the importance of curiosity. Hussain discussed Leonardo da Vinci, and how he kept a notebook with questions that came to his mind like, “What does the tongue of a woodpecker look like?” Da Vinci was constantly curious about everything, which led him to incredible inventions and creations.
Unfortunately, it is easy to lose our creative curiosity. Hussain mentions this in the book, and we also discussed it as well. When we’re kids, we’re curious about everything. But as we grow, we stop asking questions and lose our sense of wonder.
So what can we do?
The book suggests several ways to cultivate curiosity:
Encourage questioning: Create an environment where asking questions is valued and rewarded. This helps to challenge existing assumptions, identify opportunities, and stimulate creative thinking.
Embrace diverse perspectives: Engage with people from different backgrounds and with different expertise to gain a broader understanding of the world and identify novel insights. Later in the book Hussain discusses the Medici Effect—the idea of bringing diverse people together for a better culture and better outcomes.
Foster continuous learning: Encourage ongoing professional development and learning, both within and outside of one's area of expertise. This helps to stay informed about emerging trends and technologies and to develop a broader knowledge base.
Promote exploration: Encourage experimenting with new ideas, tools, and techniques, even if the outcome is uncertain. This willingness to explore and take risks can lead to breakthrough innovations.
Learn to Fail
Next up, we need to learn to fail. The book emphasizes the importance of embracing failure as a natural part of the innovation process.
Learning from failure is crucial for growth and continuous improvement. Hussain argues that organizations and individuals should not fear failure but view it as an opportunity to learn, iterate, and refine their ideas.
We discussed this in the podcast as well. It is easy to talk about embracing failure, but much harder to actually embrace failure. None of us wants to fail. So when it happens, it is incredibly difficult.
The story of James Dyson, the inventor of the Dyson vacuum cleaner, serves as an inspiring example of embracing failure in the pursuit of innovation. Dyson famously went through 5,126 prototypes before perfecting his bagless vacuum cleaner design. Instead of becoming discouraged by these setbacks, Dyson viewed each failure as a learning opportunity that brought him closer to his goal.
Dyson's perseverance and willingness to learn from failure eventually paid off, as his innovative vacuum cleaner design became a massive success and revolutionized the industry.
So what can we do?
Expect failure: The book highlights that failure is an inevitable part of the innovation process, as not all ideas and experiments will succeed. Accepting this reality can help to mitigate the fear of failure.
Learn from failure: When failure occurs, it's essential to analyze what went wrong, identify lessons learned, and apply those insights to future endeavors. This continuous learning process helps drive improvement and growth.
Create a culture that supports failure: Organizations should foster a culture that encourages experimentation and risk-taking, where employees feel comfortable sharing their failures and learning from them. This supportive environment enables innovation to thrive.
Challenge Your Thinking
Of course, another favorite topic of this newsletter is challenging your thinking.
The Innovator’s Handbook emphasizes the importance of challenging one's thinking as a crucial aspect of fostering innovation. This involves questioning assumptions, reevaluating existing beliefs, and being open to new perspectives.
The story of Kodak serves as an example of the consequences of not challenging one's thinking, and is one most of us are familiar with. Kodak, once a dominant player in the photography industry, failed to adapt to the rapid rise of digital photography. Despite having invented the first digital camera in 1975, Kodak was unable to shift its thinking and remained heavily invested in its traditional film business. The company's inability to challenge its assumptions about the future of photography and adapt to the changing market ultimately led to its decline.
So how can we challenge our thinking?
Question assumptions: Avoid taking things for granted and be willing to question the underlying assumptions behind existing ideas, practices, and beliefs. This can reveal blind spots and open up new possibilities for innovation.
Seek diverse perspectives: Going back to the point we discussed before, we can engage with people who have different backgrounds, expertise, and viewpoints. This can help challenge your own thinking and expose you to new ideas and perspectives, stimulating creativity and innovation.
Embrace cognitive dissonance: Be open to holding conflicting ideas and opinions, and be willing to reevaluate your own beliefs when presented with new information. This mental flexibility enables growth and adaptation.
Use critical thinking tools: Apply tools and techniques that encourage critical thinking, such as the Six Thinking Hats, SWOT analysis, or the Five Whys. These approaches can help challenge existing thought patterns and stimulate innovative thinking.
The book also ends with many exercises we can use to help challenge our thinking, both on our own and with our teams.
The Innovator’s Handbook provides a range of practical tools, strategies, and insights for anyone involved in the innovation process. It’s a fun read, and a well-designed book (it looks like a post-it note pad, so I love it). It’s a good one to add to our growing list of books about innovation.