First of all, let’s get one thing straight: Innovation is NOT technology. Technology is often a driver and enabler of innovation, but innovation itself is more about the cultural and behavioral shifts that occur in society as a result of a new technology, product, service or belief. And for something to be considered truly “innovative,” it must drive substantial positive change. So we are not talking about the Spork  here, people.
Innovation also tends to arrive in clusters; at certain points throughout history, humanity has overflowed with new ideas, products, services, art, literature, philosophy and technology, and I believe that we are living through one of these clusters right now.
So now that we are all on the same page regarding the definition of innovation, I want to share 5 rules about innovation that will help you understand how to foster forward-looking thinking within your own business or organization.
- Exposure Often Lights the Fire – Exposure to different industries, technologies, content, processes, ideas, products, etc. is often the spark that drives innovation. Exposing yourself and your team to other ways of thinking and doing, even in relation to the simplest tasks, can drive more innovative thinking. And today, with the access to information and content provided by the Internet and other digital technology, we have no excuses for remaining surrounded by the homogeneous nature of our daily lives.
- New Methods of Education Create Momentum – Innovation is fueled by education, and we find that new methods of education in particular seem to drive more groundbreaking thinking. Today, we have access to a myriad of new educational platforms and technologies. Online and alternative education is booming (and, in many cases, free). Start educating yourself and your team now by using these new tools so that you are prepared to spot opportunities for innovation when they present themselves.
- FFTW (Failing For The Win) – Another trait of all innovative cultures is that they foster risk taking and understand that failure is a part of the game. If you’re not failing, you’re not really trying. Encourage your team to take chances and give them a safe environment in which to experiment. Also, consider putting aside a small portion of your team’s budget specifically for experimentation, and make sure you have mechanism in place to keep track of what works and what doesn’t so that you can apply this knowledge moving forward.
- There is an Art to Creative Combination – Some of the most innovative ideas out there today came from creatively combining existing ideas and functionality with new and interesting bits and pieces from other products, services and ideas. Ask yourself, “What are all the ways I might be able to break apart and recombine this product, service, or process? Is there something else out there that could be combined or incorporated into my product that would result in a positive, substantial improvement or change?” Like most other art forms, creative combination takes practice, so ask yourself these questions every day and see what you come up with.
- If You Don’t Build It, Someone Else Will – We tend to think of innovation as existing in a vacuum; a “genius” creates something “new” in a secret lab and it is heralded as an amazing, unique innovation. But the reality is that most scientific discoveries and innovations are made independently and more or less simultaneously by multiple scientists and inventors; this is the theory of multiple discovery.  Essentially, history is written by the winners, and in the innovation space, being first often counts more than being the best. If you have an idea for something — a new process, product or service — start bringing it to life or you will be kicking yourself when someone else does.