Kevin Kauzlaric: What inspired you to write The 4 Lenses of Innovation?
Rowan Gibson: A lot of companies believe that making innovation happen is simply a matter of creating the right cultural environment inside an organization and across its external ecosystem – i.e. stimulating a lot of creative collaboration and so on. This is certainly critical but it’s only half of the equation. If we truly want to build a company’s capacity for innovation we need to understand not just the environments that enhance our capacity to dream up and introduce new things, but also the thinking processes inside the human mind that lead innovators to their Eureka moments. When we read about successful cases of innovation in business books and magazines, what is usually missing is any kind of insight into the thinking processes that led people to discover their big ideas. I wanted to study and shed some light on these important thinking processes because they are actually the key to unlocking our ability to innovate. That’s essentially why I wrote this book.
Please tell us a little bit about your background and what you are currently doing.
I’m quite well-known in the innovation space as the author of a couple of bestselling books on the subject. Over the last couple of decades, I have travelled to 60 countries across the globe to deliver keynote speeches, master classes and seminars, as well as innovation consulting for some of the world’s largest and most successful companies. Actually, I’m just back from speaking at an event in Israel, where I was honored to receive the “Global Leader of Innovation” Award 2015, along with two of my innovation heroes, Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway, and Ray Kurzweil, the great innovator and futurist. Otherwise, I’m busy right now with launching “The Four Lenses of Innovation” and with blogging on InnovationExcellence.com – the website I co-founded 4 years ago, which is now the most popular innovation portal on the Internet.
Delving into your book now, who would benefit most from your book?
I think this book is going to appeal to quite a wide cross-section of people. First, of course, there are the innovation practitioners – people inside companies who actually manage the innovation process. They naturally want to make their ideation efforts more effective, and this book gives them the tool. Then there are business people in every kind of industry who are looking for ways to improve their company’s innovation capability and to discover new strategic growth opportunities. Beyond that, we have what we might call the “creative industries”, like advertising and design. Here, too, people want to find ways to make their creative thinking less random and more process-driven to increase the probability of producing better ideas. That’s where “The Four Lenses of Innovation” can really help. In addition, I think the academic community will find a lot of value in the book – professors of innovation, business strategy, creativity, and also neuroscience. And finally, there’s the general public, because pretty much everyone I know would like to have some simple formula for enhancing their creative thinking and innovation skills.
What makes your book different from other books that cover this same topic?
This book is a really refreshing mix of content. At its core, of course, is this simple but very powerful methodology that enables us to emulate the mind of the innovator. It’s based on research into hundreds of cases of successful innovation that helped reveal the four main perspectives that unlock our inner genius, and there are plenty of these modern-day examples in the book. But it also provides a historical context by looking back at the Renaissance to show how these same four perspectives were used by people like Galileo, Gutenberg, and da Vinci in that incredibly creative period of history. There is also some neuroscience about the way the human mind works and why it often gets in the way of innovation, and some chapters on the creative process itself, and the role of insights in building big ideas. So it’s really rich in content.
Additionally, I would say that a lot of business books on innovation seem to miss the whole spirit of innovation, if you know what I mean. They’re dull. They’re like school textbooks. There’s no creativity in them. Yet innovation is by its very nature exciting. It’s about inventing the future – coming up with new ideas that are surprising, refreshing, compelling, and different. So I’ve tried to capture that spirit in the book itself, particularly in the full color graphic design. I wanted the book to be a celebration of creativity. I think readers will find it inspiring.
What are the most important elements, messages, or takeaways of your book that you’d like readers to know they will benefit from?
This book explains how literally anyone can come up with big, breakthrough ideas by learning to look at the world through a different set of lenses. Essentially, it all comes down to four key perspectives or ways of viewing things that allow us to see new insights and ideas.
- The first lens is “Challenging Orthodoxies” – questioning deeply entrenched beliefs and assumptions, and exploring new and highly unconventional answers.
- The second lens is “Harnessing Trends” – recognizing the future potential of emerging developments, and using these trends to open up new opportunities.
- The third lens is “Leveraging Resources” – understanding our limitless capacity for redeploying skills and assets in new ways, combinations, or contexts.
- And, the fourth lens of innovation is “Understanding Needs” – paying attention to issues and frustrations others have ignored, and experimenting with new solutions to these problems.
The great news is that we can use these lenses systematically to unlock the brainpower of our organizations and dramatically enhance our innovation efforts. I like to think of the lenses as “a power tool for creative thinking,” which is the subtitle of the book.
What are the major sections of your book?
There are four parts to the book. Part One is called “The Mind of The Innovator” and it’s really about understanding the thinking processes that are common to all great innovations. That’s really key to building a systematic model for the creative process. So this is where we first discover the Four Lenses of Innovation. Part Two is “The Power of Patterns.” It describes the way we typically develop patterns of thought and behavior in our minds, in our organizations, and in our societies that actually become obstacles to new thinking. Creativity and innovation are essentially about breaking those established patterns and looking at the world in fresh, new ways. Part Three is called “Looking through the Four Lenses”. So this is where we consider some contemporary cases of successful business innovation that illustrate how these four thinking patterns or perspectives help innovators discover their breakthrough ideas. And the fourth and final part of the book is called “How Big Ideas are Built.” It completes our understanding of the creative thinking process by unpacking it into its various stages and, most importantly, explaining how insights act as the triggers for those magical Eureka moments. The bottom line is that we now have a practical model for systematically generating the insights and ideas that can open up exciting new opportunities for innovation.
What is the best piece of advice for an innovator you’ve ever received?
My answer in one word is “Focus”. This was the advice I once received from a well-known thought leader in the field of strategy. And it’s very applicable to innovation. Basically, what you focus on is what you get. So if you really focus attention on solving a particular issue or problem, and you use these innovation lenses to enhance your creative thinking skills and generate inspiring new insights, you are going to vastly improve the likelihood of a creative breakthrough. If you consider great innovators throughout history, from Gutenberg to Edison to Ford, and then right up to today’s innovation icons like Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, and Elon Musk, what you find is incredible, almost obsessive focus. These people get absolutely consumed with some great challenge they want to pursue, and they will work for months or even years to find the innovative solution they are looking for. Most of us don’t have that level of focus. But it’s really critical to making innovation happen.
Give us an interesting fun fact about your book or the research you conducted for your book.
Here’s an interesting fun fact:
This book is 304 pages of full color graphic design, and all of those dozens of beautiful illustrations were made by a young Colombian illustrator named Adriana Matallana, who lives in Argentina and hardly speaks a word of English. So we saw her work and we loved her style, but it was impossible for me to communicate my ideas to her. Luckily, my wife Zulma speaks Spanish, so she would send Adriana the English chapters as they were ready, tell her what they were basically about, and then explain my sketchy suggestions for illustrations, and Adriana would send back her finished designs for the next few pages at a time. We worked together as a team like that through the whole book, so it was quite an epic design project.
Where can people find out more about you and/or your book?
The best address would be my website www.rowangibson.com. There’s a lot of info on the site about the book, and also about my innovation speaking and consulting around the world. Otherwise, there’s Twitter, were I’m @RowanGibson.
Is there anything else you’d like to mention to our readers?
Yes. I would like to say that innovation is way too important to leave to chance. And we really don’t have to do that anymore. There used to be this widespread notion that innovation and creativity were all about intangible stuff – a mysterious mix of serendipity, and chaos, and bolts of lightning. Well, now we know better. We’ve been studying these things for over a hundred years, and over the last two decades companies have taken huge steps forward at making innovation more of a systematic process inside their organizations. The Four Lenses of Innovation can be a big help with that because it’s a tool we can use to make innovation more deliberate, more methodical, and more teachable. In fact, we can really unleash the creativity of our organizations by teaching literally everyone, everywhere to develop the mind of the innovator.
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