How does a "breakthrough" happen? And does innovation happen as a spontaneous epiphany, the sole effort of a single, genius moment from a single mind? Or does it happen through a more intertwined process, through artful and synergistic collaboration? In this morning's Hartford Courant newspaper, staff writer William Weir contributed an excerpt from an interview he conducted with author Scott Berkun on his book The Myths of Innovation. The book examines the complex and thought-provoking subject of what innovation really means and many common misconceptions surrounding innovation.
Berkun recants the story of Sir Isaac Newton (useless trivia: a distant cousin of mine) and his "discovery" of gravity. The story of the apple falling from the tree was an analogy Newton used to describe something that would otherwise be a complex explanation, but this metaphor has - over the course of history - been ascribed as a literal event. Berkun also reminds us that many great "Eurekas!" are often the result of a much longer process of exploration, research, discovery, learning - and, yes, collaboration.
Newton was not alone throughout his work. At a minimum, he was in concert with the physical cues from the environment - both the observable and hypothetical world around him. In each of our own lives, we might be inspired by others, or what we see and learn around us. And we've all experienced the creative horsepower generated through group think-tank sessions around the white board, the kitchen table, or the local pub after hours. The "1+1+1=6" analogy I use often describes the nonlinear power of a group effort. The energy resulting from great collaboration can be mind bending at times, and the process of formulating engaging and dynamic new ideas is catapulted exponentially beyond what a single person can often yield.
The real test of anything new is how well it resonates with an audience. If it does not, the idea is as good as dead and buried. Is a new product idea strong enough to capture the hearts of the marketplace? Is a new process or procedure sticky enough to engage the minds of the business community? Does the world want what they are being pitched? As both Guy Kawasaki and Tom Kelley have also both written about, innovation is a two-fold process: not only does it happen through a collaboration of energies, but it requires manifestation to become reality. Innovation is not merely a great idea hatched, only to sit on the proverbial drawing board or desk drawer. Only when it breathes life in the real world is it truly innovation in action.