On the plane this afternoon I listened to a podcast from the Stanford's Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Seminar. The guest presenter was Tom Kelley, general manager at the world-renowned design firm, IDEO. His talk focused not upon how to increase innovation in the organization, but why it is 100% necessary to innovate as an individual. In short, you must consider yourself a personal innovation project. Organizations don't come up with innovations, people do!
Tom Kelley reviewed the works of an artist named Gordon McKenzie. This artist visited a school and spent time with each class from grades K through six. When he asked the kindergartners how many of them were artists ... almost every hand went up. By the time he got to the sixth grade and asked the same question, only two hands went up. Somewhere in the intervening six years the children had learned how not to be creative ... but instead looked around the classroom and sought their peer's approval.
As a coach of Lego Robotics for the past six years, I learned the same lessons. While the designs from the Minnesota H.S. robotics teams are robust, when it comes to creativity every coach knows one must visit the elementary school competitions. The younger children have not yet been taught what does not yet work. They experiment.
Recently I had this lesson reinforced when I attended DeFrag 2008. If you will remember from my earlier post, I was astounded to learn that over 60% of the attendees who watched my Social Search in the Corporate Environment twittered about my content during my talk. Quite frankly I had personally dismissed Twitter as a waste of time ... I was forced to reassess. I had stopped learning and innovating in this particular domain. Given my new personal data point, I then read an excellent research report on all the enterprise like Twitter applications (report is the work of Pistachio Consulting). I am now encouraging my company's active experimentation in this domain.
In summation, Tom Kelley while at Stanford advocated that all students think and act like a traveler. In other words, while overseas we tend to put ourselves into a "observer" status and look for new content and experiences. We seek to learn from these new data points. He warns us to to be wary of our own expertise. You can use your knowledge gained through the years to discount new ideas.