Three simple tips for innovation

Three simple tips for innovationThere are many methods and frameworks for innovation, but those are not the subject of this post. Rather, I want to take a look at three easy little things you can do to help you innovate better. Things that are not a system or a method, but three simple habits that you can incorporate into whatever general framework you use.

Tip 1: Write, draw, doodle, build

Computers are great, I love them. However, research is discovering an increasing number of clues that the human mind is not completely at home in the digital world. There are innovation advantages to be gained from using your body to a fuller extent than just typing on a keyboard: writing things down by hand is useful for memory and innovation, and so is drawing and building physical prototypes. There’s something about those tactile sensory experiences that just make us humans tick.

It is possible that gadgets can incorporate this experience into the digital world, but so far there is no perfect replacement for a notepad or a whiteboard. I actually tried to simulate the experience with a Samsung Galaxy Note phone, using the stylus to take notes and draw. At least my phone did not explode on my face, but it was still a sub-par experience. I’m still waiting for that Minority Report style user interface where I can just write and draw with my finger in the air (but could I touch it?). Until then, notepads and whiteboards will do just fine.

Tip 2: Take a walk

It is by now rather well-established that walking improves creative thinking. The exercise, the rhythm, and our almost completely available attention combine to significantly improve creative capabilities while walking. (Note that walking does not improve the later stages where a precise answer to a well-defined question is needed.)

There are many ways to use this knowledge. You can hold walking meetings to brainstorm ideas. You can go to the shop floor and see how the work is actually done (the Lean practice of gemba walks – and generally a pretty good and novel idea for many executives). You can make it a habit to walk to see other people instead of calling them, if they happen to be close by. Or you can just take a walk alone when you need to work on an idea at the early creative stage.

Tip 3: Hack your sleep

Sleep is a fascinating phenomenon. Our brains clean up and reorganize themselves during sleep, and that is a great opportunity for innovation. Better yet, you can affect it. What you think about just before going to sleep has an effect on your dreams and on what your brain works on during sleep.

Just last night, I played some World of Tanks and had trouble finding weak spots on opposing heavy tanks… Whoops, that was not the example I meant to use. I obviously thought about important process improvement issues before going to bed and in the morning I woke up fresh and with new potential solutions in mind. Truth be told, I have done that a lot of times, and intentionally at that. When you cannot doodle or walk your way to a solution, sleeping on it is a great option – just remember to prime your brain by thinking about the issue before falling asleep.


Photo: Create your own light by shuttermonkey @ Flickr (CC)