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In his new book, The Medici Effect, author Frans Johansson points out that, although our minds tend to work by association, they also tend to follow the simplest path — past associations that usually aren’t very creative.

In his new book, The Medici Effect, author Frans Johansson points out that, although our minds tend to work by association, they also tend to follow the simplest path — past associations that usually aren’t very creative:

“Although chains of association have huge benefits, they also carry costs.  They inhibit our ability to think broadly. We do not question assumptions as readily; we jump to conclusions faster and create barriers to alternate ways of thinking about a particular situation.”

So how can you eliminate these associative barriers, so that you can engage in broader, more divergent thinking? The author recommends several strategies:

Expose yourself to a range of cultures: “Through diverse cultural backgrounds and experiences, one can more easily escape imposed viewpoints. A person who has been exposed to multiple cultures… is not wedded to a particular point of view. Simply by being aware that there are multiple ways of approaching a problem, he or she will more likely view any situation from multiple perspectives.”

Learn differently: “We must employ tactics that allow us to learn as many things as possible without getting stuck in a particular way of thinking about those things. Innovators tend to be self-taught. They tend to be the types that educate themselves intensely. The whole idea behind a broad education, one that covers several fields, is that it can help us to break out of the associative boundaries that expertise builds. (Also) by learning fields and disciplines on our own we have a greater chance of approaching them from a different perspective. All this suggests that it makes sense to spend significant amounts of time reading and drawing, learning and experimenting, without guidance from instructors, peers and experts.”

Reverse assumptions: “Forcing a breakdown of associative barriers means directing the mind to take unusual paths while thinking about a situation, issue or problem. One of the most effective ways of accomplishing that is to perform an assumption reversal. By reversing assumptions the mind is encouraged to view a situation from a completely different perspective.”

Try on different perspectives: “You can view a situation from any number of perspectives. So why always choose the one that comes easiest? By forcing yourself to view a project differently, you can break down associative barriers between fields and uncover unexpected opportunities. To make it work you must choose perspectives on a radically different from the one’s you usually work with. Once again, as with assumption reversals, the point is not to come up with a specific idea per se, but rather to free up the mind and escape the routine chains of association.”

I’ve never given my mental associations much thought, always assuming that they were creative. But after reading this section of The Medici Effect, I’m going to make an effort to seek out perspectives that are farther afield, to challenge myself to think more broadly. Where are your mental associations and well-worn perspectives taking you? Maybe it’s time to give it some thought!

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