Teach your Children Well

Teach your Children Well

You, who are on the road must have a code that you can live by.
And so become yourself because the past is just a good bye.
Teach your children well, their father’s hell did slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams, the one they picked, the one you’re known by.
Don’t you ever ask them why, if they told you you would cry,
So just look at them and sigh and know they love you.

And you, of the tender years can’t know the fears that your elders grew by,
And so please help them with your years, they seek the truth before they can die.
Teach your parents well, their children’s hell will slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams, the one they picked, the one you’re known by.
Don’t you ever ask them why, if they told you, you would cry,
So just look at them and sigh and know they love you.
Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young

While celebrating the paternalistic tendencies of old, the lyrics of Teach Your Children still hold a promise for contemporary businesses that are challenged to differentiate themselves, to press the boundaries of creativity and innovation. Innovation and creativity are not just factors associated with products or strategies; in the current business climate, businesses advances require innovative thinking on the part of your team.

In the continuous debate of nature versus nurture, most people have the perception that innovation and creativity are genetic predispositions, that unless we are “born with it”, we can never develop ground-breaking ideas that will propel our businesses forward. Not so fast, say researchers. In fact, authors Clayton Christenson, Jeff Dyer and Hal Gergersen posit in The Innovator’s DNA that innovation skills can be taught and anything that can be taught can be learned.

The good news is that inspiration, resourcefulness and vision are skills that can be nurtured. Developing creativity comes about through the stages of learning. Learning occurs upon understanding the skill, then practicing it, and lastly by confidently using it.

So, if we can create the creative, are there specific skill sets that allow them to absorb the knowledge of innovation vs. say, mathematics or technology? The authors undertook a survey of executives to help them identify the attributes that differentiate innovators from the pack of executives. They subsequently determined that there are five major skill sets that account for the ability to develop innovation and creativity.

Interestingly, many of these skill sets map to those that characterize the process of scientific development.

In playing the game “which of these is not like the other?” people are leveraging this first, very critical skill, the power of observation. Innovative people examine their surroundings relentlessly and see things that the rest of us may take for granted. The truly observant sees things as they are without superimposing filters that fill in what we ‘expect’ to see.

The way that innovative people ‘connect the dots’ differentiate them from the rest of the pack. The ability to recognize, integrate and rework seemingly divergent ideas into something new is the hallmark of innovation. The convergence into something new lends credence to the saying that the whole is greater than the sum of parts. It’s that breakthrough which seems so obvious once someone else comes up with it. So often we hear, now why didn’t I think of that? to describe this phenomenon.

Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it is one of the key factors in fostering innovation and creativity. Innovators have an unquenchable thirst for knowledge that they exercise by challenging the status quo, seeking clarity and input by questioning. Insights are illuminated by the answers and assumptions are either dispelled or turned around into breakthrough ideas.

A cornerstone of scientific theory is the rigorous testing of hypotheses. While you may have an expectation of success, or more accurately, proving your theory, it is often from failure or deviation from expectations that true innovation arises.

Brainstorming and working with others is often a catalyst for new thinking or a new approach to an existing problem. When we have the opportunity to bounce new ideas off each other, we can often find the spark that ignites an original solution.

Recognizing and fostering these attributes can help you kick-start the innovative culture in your organization. Who knows, the next DaVinci can be sitting in the cube next door.