“Because we think we know, we stop looking.”
There is still plenty of opportunity in the gaps between what we say and what we do, between what we want and what we actually need, and in good experiences.
In The Ten Faces of Innovation IDEO's Tom Kelley and Jonathan Littman say the people who are most valuable in organizations have a solid grounding in the social sciences. Subjects like linguistics, cognitive psychology, and/or anthropology.
For example, people who fill the role of Anthropologist—the person who goes into the field to see how customers use and respond to products, to come up with new innovations; the Cross-pollinator who mixes and matches ideas, people, and technology to create new ideas that can drive growth; and the Hurdler, who instantly looks for ways to overcome the limits and challenges to any situation.
By far, the role of the Anthropologist is the single biggest source of innovation because, “people filling the Anthropologist role can be extremely good at reframing a problem in a new way—informed by their insights from the field—so that the right solution can spark a breakthrough.”
When working with them, they say, it's not so much their knowledge that is impressive, but a sense of “informed intuition,” or to put it with Harvard Business School Dorothy Leonard, “Deep Smarts.” In practical terms this means they have a dozen characteristics that make them good at what they do. They are:
1. practice the Zen principle of “beginner's mind” —in other words, they are willing to set aside what they know in favor of approaching situations with an open mind
2. embrace human behavior with all its surprises —rather than judging they observe and being practiced in the art of observing, they develop a genuine love of talking with people and watching what they do
3. draw inferences by listening to their intuition —through deductive reasoning, they are able to develop testable hypotheses about the emotional underpinnings of human behavior
4. seek out epiphanies through a sense of “Vuja De” —this is the opposite of déjà vu, which means having a strong sense the experience is new, even though it may have occurred before once or more times, or to see something that nobody noticed before
5. keep “bug lists” or “idea wallets” —extracting potential from everyday experiences through surprises, and especially noting what seems to need fixing like bugs and problems that hide opportunities
6. are willing to search for clues in the trash bin —and in general in the most unusual moments or places, like before customers arrive, after they leave, looking beyond the obvious, and even considering ideas that were thrown away
IDEO has documented a set of action-oriented tools —the Method Deck— to help organizations “ask,” “watch,” “learn,” and “try” things. It's important to have tools that help people figure out how to deconstruct the version of reality they have accepted so they can create something new from its parts rather than just doing exercises or providing a prescribed way of going about opening up new opportunities.
The distinction between solving a problem and finding or opening a new opportunity is also worth pointing out. In some cases we find an opportunity when we solve a problem, but in many more, we open a new opportunity by looking at things differently. So the old saying, if it's not broken it doesn't need fixing may end up holding us back reinforced too many times.