Everything new in life goes through stages of understanding. Tangible or non-tangible, they start as ad-hoc activities which evolve to a set of heuristics and eventually become an algorithm. Despite our best intentions of developing innovation as a practice, it will never reach the algorithm stage. In other words, there will never be a formula for innovating. The practice of innovating will never be distilled to a code that you can type into a program which would then spit out your next product or service. If you’re wondering why that will never be the case, here are two points to prove my point.
The act of innovating involves creating something that will be released sometime in the future. Innovations live tomorrow, or the day after. We can make educated guesses about tomorrow, but we will never be able to predict the future entirely. In an age bombarded with constant change from every corner of the Earth (especially digitally), it’s hard to make accurate predictions. Some innovation “gurus” try to reverse-engineer successful innovators. Despite their best intentions, they claim that they have the blueprint for innovators. However, those very successful innovators did not use the blueprint of this guru in order to be successful. Things might seem obvious in hindsight but reality is quite more complex.
So then do we scrap innovation as a practice all together?
Not so fast. We have good rules of thumb. We have everything from simple heuristics (use a value proposition canvas) to very complex methodologies (TRIZ). My personal advice is to put more focus on the problem. The problem lives in the present. The innovation lives in the future. So instead of predicting the unknown, you can deal with the known present – a much less stressful vantage point.
When you set out to learn everything you need to know about the human body, you know how much of an expert you’ve become. The more knowledge you know about the systems, the more of an expert you become. The human body is a finite subject. Yes there will be new discoveries about what happens inside of our bodies, but those findings are constrained within an enclosed system. We are not developing new organs every generation. On the other hand, innovation is an ever-changing subject. Our heuristics (rules of thumb) that we follow to innovate are a result of our understanding of the current environment we live in and everything that affects it. In a sense, innovation is linked with change. For as long as there will be change, our rules of thumb will change. The practice of innovating has no constraints, and the subject will continue to develop and evolve. A guru is someone that understands the present. Innovations live in the future. There are no innovation gurus or innovation algorithms.