Where do new ideas come from…

Innovation drives business. Good businesses that want to evolve and flourish need good ideas. Without good ideas, businesses remain stagnant and stuck in the status quo. 

So how can we, as leaders, create environments where new ideas bubble up and overflow at all levels of the organisation? Let’s explore some thoughts around this; 

Where do good ideas come from?

Stephen Johnson, author of “Where Good Ideas Come from” references new ideas forming via a process he terms as the “slow hunch”. In his book Johnson explores the nature of innovation and how we came to create and implement the milestone technology breakthroughs of our modern history; the big innovations that have changed the way we live, our societies, our economies and our cultures. 

What was discovered was that the best ideas don’t usually come from one single moment of great insight, but rather great ideas come about slowly. They take a long time to evolve and then spend a long time seemingly dormant in the background. These breakthrough ideas, sometimes take a few years, even ten or twenty years to mature.

The pattern Johnson recognised is that big breakthrough ideas of our time, really came about by the sum of collective smaller hunches. Perhaps someone has one fragment of the idea and it takes other people to develop the other fragments over time.

These big ideas rarely ever begin with a light-bulb moment or with a fully formed vision, instead the vision develops and crystalises over time. Johnson refers to these smaller hunches needing to ‘collide’ with each other eventually resulting in a breakthrough idea that is much bigger than the sum of all it’s parts. 

Chance favours the connected mind.

Johnson attributes the increase in innovation over the last few hundred years to the increase in connectivity; the ability for people to connect with others and share these ideas and hunches to create real breakthroughs. Since the invention of the internet in particular, the ability to reach out and share and find hunches and information that complement one another has seen innovation really take off.

As Johnson so eloquently put it “chance favours the connected mind”. 

How do businesses accommodate slow forming ideas? 

While businesses can change and adapt to new innovations quickly, it’s important that business leaders understand that the innovation that triggers this change is a long slow process. They need to set up their business model to allow for the ‘slow hunch’ process of innovation within their culture. 

Are there platforms or places that allow ideas or the fragment of ideas to be captured?

Are they encouraged to share ideas? Is there collective brainstorming happening on a regular basis?

If someone has a great idea or ‘hunch’ about how the business can change or evolve but the technology to do so happens a few years later, are there systems in place to extract that idea, and perhaps even collective ideas and use the available technology to make that happen? 

Does the company culture need to change to allow more creative time?

So much time gets spent in meeting day to day requirements, and jumping from one meeting to the next, people are left with little time to stop for lunch, let alone sit and ponder about innovation. Having such jam-packed work schedules often leaves little to no time for creative thinking.

Furthermore, some company cultures frown upon people ‘doing nothing’ or sat gazing out the window. But yet these are moments where little fragments of breakthrough ideas can actually happen; when people are given the space to stop and allow their minds to wander. 

Businesses can actively structure their business model to allow for innovation amongst employees. For example, Google, since it first went public in 2004 issued in their IPO letter their “20% time” rule which states: “We encourage our employees, in addition to their regular projects, to spend 20% of their time working on what they think will most benefit Google”. This encourages employees to be more creative and innovative. Many of Google’s significant advances like AdSense and Google News came about from this business model in action.  

How much innovation does your business allow for? I’d love to hear from you. Could your leadership team benefit from one of my workshops? Please get in touch today. I’d love to help!

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