The Surprising Truth about Innovation

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Discovery? Invention? When’s the last time you heard these words used in relation to something completely new? Now think about the word innovation. How often have you heard that word or seen it in print?

If you think it’s a fluke, go ahead and enter the words discovery, invention, and innovation into Google’s Ngram Viewer. You’ll quickly see how the word innovation is on the rise, while the terms discovery and invention are slipping.

It’s not a coincidence.

A team of researchers analyzing trends in patents filed from 1790 to the present made some interesting observations. While past patents consisted mainly of standalone technologies – steel, the automobile, the electric telegraph, photography – today’s patents tend toward a combination of standalones. In other words, they’re innovations on past inventions.

And that finding reinforces what many have realized about the skills we need to learn and to teach, like creativity and innovation. Let’s face it. Innovation has become more important than ever before, and it’s opened up the door to entrepreneurship and a startup mindset.

So what are those skills?

Seeing. This skill is about noticing the problems that need to be solved. It’s about finding the connections between disparate ideas or technologies. And it’s about constantly scanning information to find emerging trends, neglected areas, and spaces for possibility.

Doing. The technologies we need to scan, recombine, communicate, collaborate, organize and share are all there. We just need to get started and then allow ourselves to learn with and from others with the goal of creating and contributing ideas and skills of our own.

Learning. With so much information available, we need to get comfortable wading through it. We also need to find online tools that streamline the process. We need to get smarter about finding the information we need when we need it. And we need to build time into our lives for doing and seeing, reading and thinking, in order to prime ourselves to create and innovate.

What skills would you add?

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