To Innovate Intentionally, Adopt A ‘See-Through’ Understanding Of Innovation

Albert Einstein is credited with saying: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”. It follows logically that if you don’t understand something well, you will struggle to do anything worthwhile with it.

This observation certainly applies to the realm of innovation. It is rarely explained simply. People’s understanding of innovation is usually diffuse and vague which makes intentional innovative behavior difficult. As attractive as being able to innovate might be, it remains an elusive skill for many of us.

But, while the common views of innovation may be indistinct, it does not follow that the practice of it is inevitably elusive. Peter Drucker, the late American management guru, was a passionate advocate of a proactive approach to innovation. Among his many observations about innovation, he said It is capable of being presented as a discipline, capable of being learned, capable of being practiced.He went on to say that “one needs to know and apply the principles of successful innovation”

What are these principles?

Through many years of discovering and researching a particular type of innovative idea — a Sebir — I’ve happened upon a principle that can unquestionably help with intentional innovating. It is to do with what Sebirs have in common. A Sebir is so-named because it responds to the eponymous acronym (Sebir) that is derived from the phrase small effort: big result. A Sebir is an idea that is innovative because it represents an initiative where a relatively small amount of effort has generated a disproportionately big result. Instead of the normal situation where the result of an initiative is more or less commensurate with the effort expended on that initiative, a Sebir produces an outcome that is far greater than what could’ve been expected given the effort invested.

Perhaps the simplest example of a Sebir is the creation of a pun. A person employs a word or a phrase which, in addition to its usual meaning, conveys an additional meaning as well … without the use of any extra words. Same effort: double the result.

Conversely, an activity where the same value is obtained with considerably less effort achieves the same effect e.g. eliminating one or more steps in a process while enjoying exactly an identical result. And, repeatedly utilizing a fundamentally low-cost initiative (e.g. targeted emails) can generate disproportionate benefit. Or, turning what was formerly a liability into an asset guarantees significant innovative value e.g. replacing an unhealthy food ingredient with one that actively enhances health.

This principle of additional value being generated for the same effort, less effort, or, more commonly, for just relatively little extra effort, underpins many innovative ideas. And it is usually very obvious.

When you think about it, the main reason we exclaim “What a great idea!” is, more often than not, due to the fact that something surprisingly favorable has happened, way out of proportion to what could’ve been expected from the circumstances in play. It’s unexpected, sort of magical, and beneficially surprising in a very satisfying way.

This is not to discount other characteristics of innovation such as novelty, simplicity, elegance. But, identification of these tends to require some sort of subjective evaluation, often amounting to an opinion only. I’m simply saying that before any idea, initiative, or mode of operating can be described as truly innovative, firstly, and fundamentally, the benefit being realized must indisputably outweigh the effort expended to produce it. Small effort: big result! The bottom line is that there is an ‘innovative value gap’ … the effort to value ratio is inherently appealing and obvious.

This may seem an uncommon occurrence, but as literally thousands of successful Sebirs on already illustrate, it is eminently doable. Once you see the unmistakably desirable characteristic of an innovative idea this clearly, it is possible to set about innovating quite intentionally. If an idea contains value-generating activity that is analogous to your need, being able to reproduce a solution that works for you — for instance, through mental association — is entirely conceivable. Many famous innovations such as Velcro, Morse Code, the Printing Press, and Liquid Paper were created in this manner.

Albert Einstein had the first word and it is fitting to give him the last word: “Innovation is not the product of logical thought, although the result is tied to logical structure”.

You bet.

Creator of — a large vault of curated ideas that have innovatively solved typical business problems

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store