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Anyone Can Innovate

How can everyday people become creative in ways that pay?

With permission, Post Hill Press
Source: With permission, Post Hill Press

Whenever someone says, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” I hear a message of complacency. With this philosophy, we wouldn’t progress.

That’s why it’s always beneficial to get reminders, such those in entrepreneur Josh Linkner’s book on the creative process, Big Little Breakthroughs: How Small, Everyday Innovations Drive Oversized Results . He provides a wealth of stories in a breezy style to demonstrate that profitable creativity can regularly happen for ordinary people.

We often hear about the dramatic creative breakthroughs of geniuses and feel intimidated, as if such brain sparks happen only for the extraordinary. However, these eureka discoveries aren’t reserved for special people. Linkner insists that adopting some new habits can make any of us more creative. “Big little breakthroughs,” he says, are a progression of small creative acts that can pay off over time. “They are the sparks that fuse into a raging fire.” He proves his point with stories that feature people from all over the world and from among a range of areas that include sports, music, fashion, art, and food.

Linkner bills himself as a “creative troublemaker.” He’s been the founder and CEO of five successful tech companies, and has published four books, including Disciplined Dreaming and The Road to Reinvention . He mentors startups and serves as Chairman and co-founder of Platypus Labs, an innovation research, training, and consulting firm. Thus, he’s well placed to hear success stories. He believes we all have the potential for innovation, but too often it lies dormant. He hopes to bring more of it into practice for anyone and everyone.

A 2019 survey found that the top missing skills in the global workforce were innovative problem solving and the ability to deal with complexity and ambiguity. “The person who regularly demonstrates inventive thinking and creative problem solving,” Linkner writes, “is the one who gets promoted faster and reaches higher levels of success.” During these post-pandemic days, as jobs return and companies recover, there’s a new hunger in the workplace for these skills. The good news is, there’s a way to acquire and nurture them.

Linkner is not the first visionary to attempt to dispel the myth that creativity belongs to savants. Many other authors ( myself included ) have proven this to be false. But Linkner’s focus on incremental steps offers a slant that could encourage more people to cultivate their inner inventor. First, he looks at the creative process. Then he provides a systematic framework for inventive thinking that encourages a progression of five percent upgrades. In this section, he describes the “eight obsessions of everyday inventors,” and offers useful exercises.

Linkner’s concept of INNOplasticity mashes neuroplasticity with innovation to describe the expandable nature of creativity: “Your creative potential is far greater than the creativity you had at birth.” This suggests we can all improve and keep improving our imagination. He offers tips, such as developing a habit of walking that increases creative output. He also discusses the “Frogger Principle,” based on a game he used to play. The lesson is to not rest on any one success but to keep moving, keep innovating.

Among the “eight obsessions” are to fall in love with the problem, perform experiments, start before you’re ready, and break it to fix it. Here you’ll find a great story about how LEGO turned its product for kids into such a hot commodity. My favorite chapter was “Reach for Weird.” People who've felt left out tended to grow up taking more risks and being more creative. To demonstrate, Linkner provides a chart. He lists a problem, shows an obvious (but usually expensive) solution, and then describes a "weird" approach that worked and saved money. These are inspiring. He also suggests exercises for developing innovative minds. I tried some, and they worked.

At times, Linkner’s persistent optimism gave me the impression that we need only put this program to use to find creative success. He cites one tale after another where incremental innovation has worked. But a review of ten seasons of Shark Tank , where new (and sometimes weird) inventors hope to attract resources to support their products shows that innovation doesn’t necessarily get us to the goal line. In 895 pitches, there were 499 deals (56%). A Forbes survey of seven seasons of the show found that 43% of deals fell apart. Yes, Shark Tank is entertainment TV, but it gives more perspective about invention than does a stream of nothing-but-success stories. Linkner does discuss the role of failure as one of the eight obsessions, and he provides a list of “flops,” but I still sensed that he thinks his formula can’t help but yield significant dividends.

In brief, Linkner states that “the most world changing innovations are nothing more than a collage of tiny creative acts.” To become more creative, you should cultivate a habit of “small, daily shots” of innovation. If you maintain a reasonable perspective about the lack of guarantees, you can’t go wrong with added attention to your own inventions.

References

Linkner, J. (2021). Big Little Breakthroughs: How Small, Everyday Innovations Drive Oversized Results. Post Hill Press.

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