Steve Jobs shows off the white iPhone 4 at the 2010 Worldwide Developers Conference (Photo credit: Wikipedia)]
How many times does a hot new product or service come out and you say, “I could have thought of that” or “Why didn’t I think of that?” Our high value US economy is increasingly dependent on innovation. When people mention China’s economic rise, we depend on “innovation” as our figurative ‘USA, USA’ chant. We are high-value, and everyone else is low-value, right? (Not really, folks) There’s good money where innovation meets market need. Everyone wants to capitalize on innovation, but in reality, inspiration leads to breakthrough innovation. Ere go, inspiration is the goal.
The Importance of Your Inspiration Quotient
This is a subtle but importance difference that business tomes rarely discuss because people think inspiration just happens to some people, and cannot be produced. I disagree. We all have an inspiration quotient, and in this blog post, I contend that practicing the Arts is the way to capturing inspiration in the art, in life, and in whatever endeavors you undertake. If you want to hire, invest in or become an inspired innovator, hire, invest in or become a musician, painter, writer, sculptor or dancer. If you want a company full of innovators, promote art as a central human development priority in your organization. Formalizing the practice of art in order to engender inspired innovation is not covered in your MBA text, and is overlooked in the general business media. I’ve seen various innovation maps, innovation cycles, and innovation process charts, and none of them mentioned inspiration or the Arts. So, I’m putting it out there for business gurus to analyze, formalize, institutionalize and potentially monetize. The pathway to inspired innovation is practicing the arts.
You might be thinking, great, another thing to add to my to do list of in order to be a top performer. As you’ll read later, it’s only as time consuming as you want it to be, but here’s your scientific justification. I’m a true believer in the line of thinking that one can change one’s success in many areas by disciplining yourself to adopt new habits that are out of your norm in other areas. Said another way, if you drag your sorry ass out of bed and get yourself to work out early every morning, it will carry through to help you push through that next development cycle or to make the key point that lands a difficult sale. These habits can create actual physiological changes in your brain as well, if you want to get scientific. Train your mind. So what? We’ve heard that all before. I’m busy, where’s the business rationale for art?
Well, the greatest disruptive innovations come from an ethereal asset that comes to us unexpectedly, and by seeming divine providence, known as “inspiration”. Michelangelo had it. Benjamin Franklin had it. Alexander G Bell and Marconi had it. Steve Jobs had it. You can’t learn it in business school. You can’t order it on Amazon. You can’t force your engineers to engender it just because they listen to music or know a programming language. I contend that great inventors like da Vinci and Steve Jobs achieved their greatness from inspiration, and that inspiration was due in great measure to their passion for practicing various forms of art. Historians might track back recognition of the importance of studying and practicing art to ancient Greece or Mesopotamia. Inventors of the stature of a Ben Franklin, who began his professional life as a writer and lived his entire life as a satirist, were enormously multi-dimensional. Unfortunately, you can see a declining importance assigned to the Arts today in the tight budgets of US schools. We mistakenly view the study of art as a pathway to an artistic profession, rather than as a pathway to innovation in many professions. Unlike Mr. Franklin or Michelangelo, we risk becoming a cradle to grave nation of intensely focused specialists on an org chart with an inhibited aptitude for the inter-dimensional imagining that is required for inspired innovation. It is not critical thinking, it is imagining. Kids are born with a deep desire to make these neural connections, and we formulate that desire away. Think about this when you are discussing Arts budgets on your local PTA.
Inspiration – it’s already inside us all, but we don’t know it yet. You can’t buy it, put your hands on it, or make use of it when you need to. We Americans hate that, and that’s why you won’t see it on any arrows or circles on mind-bending innovation process maps. Imagine if an innovation consultant came in to tell your team “Ok, the first step is you want to get your hands on some inspiration.” Like Peter Senge’s famous work on The Learning Organization, you’d recoil at the idea that everything from there on down would be built “on the backs of turtles”. Managers like to think they can process map everything. So if it’s not on our neat 3D process map, it must be superfluous. The problem is, inspiration is the most essential element to great innovation.