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Innovation Thinking - Nature or Nuture?

Updated: Mar 27, 2022

Elon Musk introducing Tesla's PowerWall.

Are some people (Ray Kurzweil, Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, Chris Barnard, Elon Musk etc) simply born with an innate ability to see things differently, thus delivering life changing theories and practices?

How about companies like IDEO, Amazon, Uber, AirBnB and Alibaba?

Or are there fundamental principles and methods that can be applied to create new paradigms according to a process or recipe?

Sir Isaac Newton, the father of modern physics, once said "If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants."

Three centuries have passed since then, yet Newton's famous words still resonate throughout today's scientific community, and for good reason. They not only show the modesty of one of history's greatest minds, but are a shining example of the true nature of progress and human endeavour.

Above all else, innovation is a process. It does not usually come from deep knowledge of something, but from people who interact and learn from experts, who build on those before them and boldly dare to look in a new direction. That is what Newton alluded to. Newton was an innovator himself, one of the most prolific ever known. With a quill and some paper he redefined physics and mathematics, rewrote how scientists viewed the universe, and if it weren't for him modern technology would be very far from where it is today. Despite that success and achievement, Newton never overlooked what so many tend to forget.

Innovators are learners, not experts - it's in their nature to be curious, yet they nurture this talent in a deterministic manner. Their end goal is not to collect bits of knowledge - these are, after all, just rapidly ageing facts. Only by actively seeking out disparate connections between truths, reconfiguring them, rejigging their sequences and always being hopeful that a new idea is just around the corner, can true innovation be achieved. The principles and methods that allow for these conscious shifts are varied, but they are most certainly quantifiable. Deeply rooted in the laws of pedagogy, systems thinking and scientific discovery, they are powerful tools in the workshops of innovators and learners alike.

As science and technology move forward, growing and expanding with seemingly impossible velocity, it is becoming more apparent that the best innovators are even better learners. In today's world, breakthrough progress requires more than just a potent imagination. It requires a desire to share, to interact and be openly vulnerable in an ideation space where one doesn't necessarily know any of the answers.

The true essence of innovation is therefore one of humility, something Newton elegantly described more than three hundred years ago. And as long as we keep posing big, meaningful questions to each other and learning from our predecessors, that nature will continue nurturing our existence.

About the writer: "I've always been inspired by ideas - what makes them happen, why some seem crazier than others and how humans manifest thoughts into reality. My career has been spent developing solutions to everyday problems across technology, education, design and integrated business systems. My family is my inspiration and drive to do bigger, better things while electronic music, art and great stories help keep me sane."

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