Structured Innovation is NOT an oxymoron

Avatar Picture of DaynaWhen we solve inventive-level problems the human brain goes through a series of procedural steps. Because this ‘strategy and process of invention’ has been studied for decades, innovation has become structured, as odd as that seems.

Most people have breakthroughs so quickly they are completely unaware of their own mental processes. But the fact remains, every one of us solves tough problems with a strategy and process whether we are aware of that process or not. All of us do it; and we follow the process every time we solve tough problems.

The great thing about this is if we get stuck and we know what that process is, we can ‘walk’ through the methodology and become unstuck. Think of it this way. Solving really tough problems is like baking a cake. If you bake lots of cakes (solve lots of problems), you probably don’t need a recipe anymore (are unaware of the steps your brain is taking to solve the problem). But if you decided to bake a brand new type of cake(want to solve problem that is beyond your current experience), you would probably follow a recipe (use a structured innovation process).

You can wait a hundred years for enlightenment, or you can solve the problem in fifteen minutes with these principles. Genrich Altshuller

Here is another analogy. Archimedes developed calculus in the third century BC. But Archimedes was killed before he could teach his procedural steps to others and his writings about his theories were lost. Therefore, calculus was lost.

This loss-of-calculus is analogous to understanding inventive genius. Although tough problems were solved, they were solved using unarticulated techniques. The procedural steps were not assessable by external observation (the mental processes and strategies were hidden and undocumented). Therefore, people developed the idea that the talent was rare, only gifted few were capable of it, or you were lucky if you had a sudden breakthrough idea. And this belief developed momentum – inertia.

It was centuries before Archimedes’ work was reinvented. In the 1700s, both Isaac Newton and Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz re-invented calculus. At first no one could understand and use this new math because much of what these mathematical innovators did was in their heads. However, once Newton and von Leibniz wrote down and disseminated their work, their ideas were understood, scrutinized, tested, and rigorously applied (diffused throughout the relevant scientific and social community). Today, high school students routinely learn and use calculus because it has been structured over the centuries and students can be taught the step-by-step procedures.

Ah, now do you see? For the past sixty-plus years, the innovation process has been researched, developed, scrutinized, tested, and rigorously applied. And now, the process of innovation (the structure, the step-by-step methodology) can be taught – even to high school students. We now know:

  • How inventors think;
  • What they think first, to get started;
  • What kinds of problems are routinely solved;
  • How systems evolve;
  • What is the essence of all great inventions;
  • What types of risks are commonly overlooked;
  • …and more.

To solve inventive-level problems, simply learn the series of procedural steps. there is a ‘strategy and process’ to invention. It has been studied for decades. Inventiveness is growing into an applied science. Innovation is now structured, as odd as that seems.