What is true innovation? What kind of thinking brings it about? How can we help ourselves become more creative without surrendering to chaos? Concept creator, business designer, and strategist Hideshi Hamaguchi addressed these questions at our latest FutureTalk in Portland, Ore. In his presentation “Think About Think,” Hideshi proposed an approach for what he called “breakthrough thinking,” including the top two “secrets” he has been sharing throughout his illustrious career.
Beginning at Panasonic, Hideshi went on to develop Japan’s first corporate intranet as well as the world’s first USB flash drive back in 1999. Today he is Executive Fellow at Ziba Design and CEO at monogoto, and he is considered one of the world’s leading minds in creative concept and strategy development. To begin his fascinating talk, he set out to define innovation in its purest form.
Three criteria of innovation
With so many conflicting definitions and interpretations out there, it can be difficult to explain what innovation really is, Hideshi said. Doing so is like attempting to describe the shape of something sealed inside a box—without opening the box. To cut through all the noise surrounding the concept, he specified three criteria which all innovative ideas must meet. A truly innovative idea must be:
To be categorized as innovative, an idea must represent something not seen before. It must also be achievable—there is no place for fantasy in business, said Hideshi, and there is nothing innovative about a vision that has no possibility of becoming reality. Likewise, a concept that is instantly met with either universal praise or universal dismissal cannot be considered innovation. A truly groundbreaking idea, he explained, is one that excites some people while angering others. This controversy is vital—without it, there is no innovation.
Breaking the bias
The first task for any aspiring innovator is to “break the bias.” This means recognizing the established patterns and frameworks on which your operation is built, then choosing to move beyond them. To illustrate the power of bias, Hideshi gave the example of an experiment conducted by researchers at Harvard Medical School, in which 24 radiologists were instructed to study a series of lung scans and identify the suspicious nodules in each. Heavily biased towards their specific task, 83% of the radiologists failed to spot the image of a gorilla superimposed on the final scan. In fact, some claimed not to see the gorilla even after it was pointed out to them.
By visualizing our biases, Hideshi said, we can begin to break the patterns that restrict us. This in turn enables us to “force our thinking”—that is, to find the engine behind a truly innovative idea, rather than fixating on the idea itself.
Structuring the chaos
To explain the importance of striking a balance between structure and chaos in innovative thinking, Hideshi presented the audience with a challenge. Projecting all the numbers from zero to 100 up on the screen in scattered, haphazard fashion, he asked the audience to find as many sequential numbers (beginning at zero) as they could in 30 seconds. Aside from a few “geniuses” in the room, the results were pretty dismal.
Hideshi then revealed that the screen was divided into quadrants, with the numbers appearing in a repetitive, Z-shaped pattern. Armed with this knowledge, their second attempt at counting was far more successful. But when Hideshi revealed yet another grid (three additional sections within each quadrant), audience performance collectively worsened once again. This proves, Hideshi said, that our brains require both structure and chaos. “Too much logic harms creativity; too much creativity harms logic.”
To create that balance in your work, you can deliberately go back and forth between the two extremes. Or you can “move your brain to the middle” (giving equal weight to diagrams and doodles, for example). Structuring the chaos without erasing it altogether enables you to visualize your own biases—the first step in breaking them.
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