Sunday, 3 January 2016

Connecting Dots (aka Combinatorial Innovation)

I am a big believer in the value of 'connecting the dots'. The work I do for Quirk currently, is doing this from a sales perspective (more on sales creativity in another post).

In my experience (5+ years working in a creative business) any and all kinds of creativity are a function of the brain being able to connect seemingly disparate ideas, methods, and facts, in new and unique ways. And in my mind, innovation is merely a subset of 'creativity'.


There is abundant literature on this topic and how it relates to innovation, specifically, "combinatorial innovation". I have lifted a few ideas from others to bookmark this point.


"Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people. Unfortunately, that’s too rare a commodity. A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have."
I, Steve: Steve Jobs In His Own Words


James Webb Young, author of the famous book about generating ideas (published 1940!), talks about 2 principles in forming new ideas, which I agree with:
  1. "an idea is nothing more or less than a new combination of old elements"
  2. "bring old elements into new combinations depends largely on the ability to see relationships."
So the relationship between ideas is likely more important than ideas themselves and isolation.


Here, Nancy Andreasen from The Atlantic, nails the success in creativity - namely, connecting some dots that doesnt exist yet. I have first hand experience of this having seen my boss, Rob Stokes, continually and (mostly) correctly predict the market that has lead to our hypergrowth at Quirk for the last 5 years. Having also worked with some of our industry's best creative people, who make their living from exactly this, reaffirms my belief in this:

"Creative people are better at recognizing relationships, making associations and connections, and seeing things in an original way—seeing things that others cannot see. … Having too many ideas can be dangerous. Part of what comes with seeing connections no one else sees is that not all of these connections actually exist."
Secrets of the Creative Brain


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