One Key Secret to Innovation: Associative Logic20 July, 2017 / Articles
Innovation can come from uncovering a breakthrough but it can also come from a simpler place – right in front of our eyes.
On our company website, we have a quote that says, “Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen, and thinking what nobody has thought.” This remark from Dr. Albert Szent-Györgyi, a Nobel Prize-winning researcher and author, is a good reminder to look again at what we’ve already seen with a different lens.
Dr. Szent-Györgyi researched the role of muscle contraction and energy and fostered discoveries that were based on collaboration. I like to think of associative logic as an important muscle in the discovery and understanding of new ideas and opportunities. Associative logic means we put things together in surprising and unexpected ways to solve dilemmas, address challenges and open up new horizons. It is typically defined, for business purposes, as a process “involved in discerning and applying connections between unrelated or distantly related concepts.”
To create an environment that inspires innovation and in order to truly benefit from associative logic, companies and organizations must value and reward it. We have to incentivize revisiting former thinking, existing data and hypotheses and putting the pieces together in new ways. We need to foster collaborating when collaboration might seem counterintuitive.
While new thinking is important, it’s just as important not to neglect old thinking. There are so many instances where an incredible idea has already been thought of but was ahead of its time, not communicated clearly, overruled by a team with different priorities, or simply lost in the shuffle of changing people, roles or budgets.
Innovation challenges are often presented as competitive threats, a fear that we aren’t differentiated enough or won’t be differentiated as the marketplace evolves. They are a desire to get and stay ahead of the curve and the pack. Sometimes they are wide open fields yet to be addressed; other times innovation is considered a daily requirement. No matter how new the frontier, we always have at least a basic foundation to start with; beginning with an assessment of what we know is a good place to start. I always recommend asking ourselves and our team what we already know:
- What do we know about our consumer, customer or influencer?
- What do we know about the marketplace, industry, category or related categories?
- What do we know about the environment (regulatory, geopolitical, scientific or technological influences)?
- What do we know about what we bring to the party?
- What do we know about our competition – current and anticipated?
- What have we learned recently and what are its implications?
- What partnerships have been successful and why?
- What resources can we access today and what big questions can’t we answer yet?
- Then make a list and a learning plan.
Ask these questions with no bias or prejudice, just to gather exciting information. Read voraciously – whatever is publicly available or what’s been custom-developed. Look for kernels worth exploring and note them as you go. Set everything out and then begin to match it to the questions – especially those that don’t seem to fit together. Looking internally at disconnects and trying to connect them is valuable. Looking externally can be even more fruitful.