Do Great Innovators Steal?
From Innovation Excellent 14 Sept 14 enhanced by Peter/CXO Wiz4biz
Steve Jobs is not the first, but he expressed a strong agreement with a Quote by artist Picasso: “Good artists copy, Great artists steal”. This is in effect “viral” statement, with a long pedigree, and has also been expressed in very similar terms by other creative giants, from author T S Elliot to violinist Stravinsky. With quotations, there is often debate around who said exactly what and when. However, what I love about these quotations is that, like proverbs, they often very succinctly capture a powerful idea. I believe this is one such insight, and one worth stealing. (Go for it) While the idea itself is hardly new, I believe that looking at it through the lens of Behavioral Science, and hence using analogy, enabled by deep causal understanding, and problem mapping can teach us how to “steal” (or plagiarize) more effectively. Of course, I’m my no means advocating plagiarism, which is anything but innovative. However, I believe there are at least three different forms of what I consider “honorable creative theft”:
1. Transferred Innovation. The problem has already been solved in another, super-ficially unconnected area. Re-applying a pre-existing solution, stolen from somewhere else, transforms innovation from an act of creation into an act of search, discovery, re-application & transformation.
2. Emergent Innovation. Operating at the interface of established disciplines enables blending or remixing of existing knowledge in new ways, often leading to ideas that are emergent, and exceed the sum of heir parts: 1+1 >2
3. Inevitable Innovation. Sometimes simply having all of the pieces of a puzzle is all we need to complete it. Christened “Multiple Discovery” by author Easton 1) the world of innovation, and even Nobel Prizes, 2), are replete with examples of innovations that occur independently, and at roughly the same time. When all of the parts of the puzzle are available, sometimes the answer almost jumps out at us. This makes Innovation, in part, an exercise in staying current. If there were ever a case for reading websites like Innovation Excellence, this may be it!
#1, Transferred Innovation detailed. This is obviously not a new idea, as smart innovators have been doing it for a very long time. Here are a couple of examples: 1) Frank Fish reapplied the Bio-Inspired Innovation or Bio- imitation of the unusual structure of whale fins to improve efficiency of Windmills, 2) while George de Mestrals’ invention of Velcro was inspired by Burrs getting stuck on his pants. You can steal ideas from virtually anywhere. However, domains with high R&D investment, like medicine, the military, or nature are good places to start, simply because so much innovation already exists there. Looking in unusual places can also lead to really big ideas, and sometimes the more surprising the connection, the bigger the innovation. For example, tapestry & computer programming may seem quite far removed, but 3) early computer programming was ‘stolen’ from punch-cards used in Jacquard tapestry weaving looms. Many of the innovations described above are more serendipitous than systematic, and favored by an agile and prepared mind that is already searching for the answer to a nagging problem. However, psychology gives us some ways to tackle this more systematically.
[ Analogies, Relationship maps, Innovating at interfaces, Inevitable Innovation, in Premium Content ]