Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Article: innovation is the result of hard-work, not flashes of brilliance

Janet Rae-Dupree, in the New York Times:

As humans, we want to believe that creativity and innovation come in flashes of pure brilliance, with great thunderclaps and echoing ahas. Innovators and other creative types, we believe, stand apart from the crowd, wielding secrets and magical talents beyond the rest of us.

Balderdash. Epiphany has little to do with either creativity or innovation. Instead, innovation is a slow process of accretion, building small insight upon interesting fact upon tried-and-true process. Just as an oyster wraps layer upon layer of nacre atop an offending piece of sand, ultimately yielding a pearl, innovation percolates within hard work over time.

"The most useful way to think of epiphany is as an occasional bonus of working on tough problems," explains Scott Berkun in his 2007 book, "The Myths of Innovation." "Most innovations come without epiphanies, and when powerful moments do happen, little knowledge is granted for how to find the next one. To focus on the magic moments is to miss the point. The goal isn't the magic moment: it's the end result of a useful innovation."

That's a common theme in innovation, according to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a psychologist at the Claremont Graduate University in California. "Cognitive accounts of what happens during incubation assume that some kind of information processing keeps going on even when we are not aware of it, even while we are asleep," he writes in "Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention."
Though that's hardly surprising once you're aware that most of cognition is unconscious, and that conscious thought is like the tip of the
iceberg.

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