Is there anything new in innovation? In December, the Wall Street Journal published an article by Robert J. Gordon, a professor at Northwestern University, who presented his opinion that the future of economic growth in the U.S. is bleak, even though we have achieved a 2% growth rate between 1891 and 2007. Nobel laureate Edmund S. Phelps took Gordon's thought process even further in the New York Times when he commented that less innovation has widened inequality in the United States.
These dire predictions may have caught the attention of the White House as President Obama commented in January that, "The first step in winning the future is encouraging American innovation." He laid out a challenge for the U.S. to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the world. Of course the government's solution is to throw more money at the problem in the form of corporate partnerships for research and development.
But corporate America isn't much better at the innovation game. When faced with the challenge of a stagnant economy, a stale product, or fickle consumers, the solution is often to gather top executives in a room for an intense brainstorming session. The problem with this approach, according to Albert Einstein, is that "we cannot solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them."
Fortunately, there is somebody who really is bringing a new approach to innovation. Debra Kaye is an international innovation expert specializing in cultural strategy and innovation for consumer businesses. She is the innovator behind many brand success stories for Dove Chocolate, Mars Petcare, American Express, L'Oreal, Groupe Danone and Colgate, who encourages corporations to look at their products differently, to crystallize their branding and marketing strategies in bolder ways to truly resonate with consumers.
Now Kaye has taken these insights and uses them to help us unlock our inner innovator in her new book, Red Thread Thinking: Weaving Together Connections for Brilliant Ideas and Profitable Innovation. Based on the Oriental legend of the red thread, Kaye builds on a foundation which states that innovations are made up of threads or relationships that weave together into a fabric of interconnectivity which spawns new insights. She believes that insight is no accident and that everyone is capable of designing and developing thoughts into smart and practical innovations for everyday living.
Instead of the tired brainstorming approach Kaye maintains that anything--even doing laundry--will help you dream up new ideas better than sitting in a meeting. She asserts that the conventional wisdom that innovation can be institutionalized in a formal group is wrong. Our brains don't make connections in a rigid atmosphere because there is too much pressure and too much influence from others in the group. Unique ideas blossom best when your brain is relaxed and engaged in something other than the task at hand. Steamy showers, ambling walks -anything other than rigid brainstorming sessions.
Kaye's contrarian approach doesn't stop at brainstorming. She doesn't believe in innovating based on trends either, which is a prevailing industry practice. She sees those as ephemeral. Rather she takes a much broader anthropological approach to finding hidden connections deep in our culture for businesses to discover new ways to generate ideas. Her five simple, yet deeply profound, red threads include universal truths, which make approach to both problem and opportunity of innovation completely new and fresh.
Debra Kaye believes that we all have the power to design and develop thoughts into things. I tested some of her ideas and was surprised at how empowering they really were. They work.
Do you agree that America is losing its ability to innovate or do you think that we can use new skills to out-innovate the world? Leave a comment below and share what you think it takes to grow an idea into an innovation that makes everyone say, "Why didn't I think of that?"