I’m reading a book that I am enjoying enormously, and although I haven’t finished it yet, I found a passage that I appreciated so much that I wanted to post it here because it says so much about innovation.
“An animal that depends on the accumulated knowledge of past generations has to have some time to acquire that knowledge. An animal that depends on imagination has to have some time to exercise it. Childhood is that time. Children are protected from the usual exigencies of adult life; they don’t need to hunt deer or ward off saber-tooted tigers, let alone write grant proposals or teach classes–all of that is done for them. All they need to do is learn. When we’re children we’re devoted to learning about our world and imagining all the other ways that the world could be. When we become adults we put all that we’ve learned and imagined to use. There’s a kind of evolutionary division of labor between children and adults. Children are the R&D department of the human species–the blue-sky guys, the brainstormers. Adults are production and marketing. They make the discoveries, we implement them. They think up a million new ideas, mostly useless, and we take the three or four good ones and make them real.”
The role of innovation management, of course, is to foster the synthesis of these two – the creativity and imagination of the child, who sees things for the first time and understands them in ways that someone who has seen them a million times cannot; and the systemic, rational thinking of adulthood, which knows how to transform a good idea into a truly valuable product or service or process.
The book is The Philosophical Baby: What Children’s Minds Tell Us About Truth, Love, and the Meaning of Life, by Alison Gopnik. The writing is smooth and effortless, the ideas provocative. And the implications for anyone interested in innovation are worthy of close attention.
The interplay between the child’s mind and the adult’s is exemplified in this story about Edwin Land. Land was an avid photographer, and one day he posed his young daughter in front of his house and took her picture.
Did he tell her to “Say cheese”? Perhaps.
In any case, when the picture was taken she ran to him and said, “I want to see the picture, Daddy.”
“Yes, dear, of course,” he replied. “I just have to take out film and develop it, and print, and then you can see.”
But that did not satisfy his daughter in the least. “No, Daddy. I want to see it NOW!”
Inspired by his daughter’s insistence, her imagining that she should be able to see it immediately, Land went on to develop the Polaroid instant camera.
I made up the dialog, but the story is basically true.
I mentioned this exchange in a speech I gave recently, and I used it as an example of the power of questions to unlock insights that lead to innovation. Indeed, all innovators are insatiable question-askers.
Just as children are.
I will post more insights from The Philosophical Baby as I read on.