A Deeper Look at the Psychology of Innovation

Anyone can think innovatively!

It’s easy to assume that the great innovators of history are nothing more than geniuses who win the intellectual lottery. But really, innovation is about psychology, not IQ. In order to be more innovative, it’s a matter of how you learn, how you listen, and what you do with both.


First, no innovator is an island. Often if you dig into the history of an innovation, it’s really a collection of many different ideas that culminate in a breakthrough. The computer started as a “difference engine” for navigational calculations, Charles Babbage paired that with the punched cards that, at the time, were directing industrial looms. That inspired a string of special purpose devices – analog computers – before the Navy ordered its scientists to invent one small enough to calculate how to hit a moving target with a torpedo. Nobody sat down one day and created the modern computer out of whole cloth. Being open to other industries, other disciplines, and other ideas changed our world completely.


To overcome a challenge, you have to separate yourself from your emotional investment in it. It’s easy to get emotionally invested in our work, to the point where all we can see is what we’ve committed to a problem. The science of chemistry was uncovered not by brilliant people seeking to change the world, but alchemists who spent their entire lives chasing dreams like turning lead into gold or discovering the philosopher’s stone. They were so focused on the impossible; they never noticed the amazing things they were achieving and left it to others to realize what they’d done and build on them. Be the chemist, not the alchemist.

The lightbulb is just the start of innovative thinking.


One of the most important aspects of innovation is being able to see an issue from multiple perspectives. It’s not just that you need to understand what people think about the issue, it’s that you need to ask yourself how the issues you’re considering will affect them. Great innovators are often very good at listening and paying attention to what they’re told, both directly and indirectly. Nobody is perfectly empathetic, of course, but being able to understand not just what people are telling you, but why they’re telling you it, will help with your innovation.


As we’ve mentioned before, the greatest innovations tend not to come from lone thinkers with one brilliant idea, but more often from a team working together to come up with solutions, prototype devices, and push innovation forward. This ties into empathy and how none of us have perfect empathy; the best way to fill that gap is to have a team who has that perspective. This can range from team members from different social backgrounds to members of different departments in your organization, but the right collaborators will help you refine, and redefine, ideas.

There’s a lot more to innovation, of course. Gathering data, refining ideas, idea management, and your approach to the above will define how you innovate, where you innovate and why. But by cultivating the mindset, you’ll be better set to find brilliant ideas. Ready to get started? Join our newsletter.

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