Connecting the Dots: Innovation Thinking Styles

Renowned innovation expert Steve Shapiro has recently joined InnoCentive as VP of Strategic Consulting.

On July 1, 2009, I joined InnoCentive as the "VP of Strategic Consulting and Chief Innovation Evangelist."  Although I just joined the company, for several years now, I have marveled at how the InnoCentive Solver community could tackle problems that have plagued businesses and society for years.  You are changing the world.  And I am thrilled to now be part of your team.

As I followed InnoCentive and observed the success of the Solver community, it got me thinking about how problems are solved.

From my research on innovation personality styles, I have observed that there are two broad ways of solving challenges: relational/creative and rational/analytical.

Steve Jobs, President of Apple Inc, once said, "Creativity is just having enough dots to connect . . . connect experiences and synthesize new things. The reason creative people are able to do that is that they've had more experiences or have thought more about their experiences than other people."  This beautifully articulates how creative/relational problem solving works.

To date, most InnoCentive Challenges have been more technical in nature and are typically solved through a more rational/analytical approach.

When looking at these two styles, I realized that InnoCentive Solvers are perfectly positioned to use BOTH innovation styles.  To explain why I believe this, let's explore what happens in the brain when solving Challenges.

In the soon to be released book, "The Brain Advantage," the authors suggest that insight (i.e., relational/creative problem solving) comes from the part of the brain called the anterior superior temporal gyrus (aSTG) which is housed within the cerebral cortex.  Research has found that the right aSTG is responsible for making novel connections between ideas.

The authors suggest that the right aSTG is active during "aha!" moments, for example, when we ‘get' a joke. Although both the right and left hemispheres have temporal lobes with an aSTG area, only the aSTG in the right hemisphere lights up when we have an insight.

This is supported by research done by Dr. John Kounios from Drexel University who said in a recent WSJ article, "Solving a problem with insight is fundamentally different from solving a problem analytically.  There really are different brain mechanisms involved."

Here's why I believe that you, the Solver community, have a unique opportunity to be both analytical AND creative.

You already have deep expertise.  That's well established.  By expanding your knowledge beyond your core into "adjacent" or related disciplines, you will (as Steve Jobs would say) "have more dots to connect."  Connecting dots activates the aSTG and gives you greater creative insights.

Herb Simon, Nobel Laureate, economist, and psychologist, credits his degrees in computer science, psychology, and economics as his key to success.  He said that knowledge in these varied disciplines became his "network of possible wanderings" - the rational space where he was able to become relational.  The broader the space, the more dots to connect.

As a Solver, you have an incredible set of analytical tools at your disposal to solve InnoCentive Challenges.  By expanding your horizons beyond your area of expertise, you have the ability to use both parts of the brain.  This makes you even more valuable than you already are.

The InnoCentive Solver community is making this world a better place.  And I am honored to be working with you.  Please let me know if I can help in any way.

Steve

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