Monday, February 25, 2013

Connecting the Unconnected: Associating and Questioning

When I was still teaching in Thailand I attended the Apple Leadership Summit in Hong Kong where I met Tom Kelley.  Tom gave me a copy of his book, The Ten Faces of Innovation.  Tom's point was that organizations need lots of different sorts of people to be a success.  As I read through this book after the conference, I asked myself which role I played, and the conclusion that I came to was that I was mostly a cross-pollinator.  Tom described this role as someone who draws associations and connections between seemingly unrelated ideas or concepts to break new ground.

Back in The Innovator's DNA, I'm reading about where innovative ideas flourish:  at the intersection of diverse experiences where "a combination of novel ideas coalesce into something quite surprising."  It's the place where you have the freedom to look in different directions.  As Edward de Bono wrote: "You cannot look in a new direction by looking harder in the same direction."

At this intersection, it's important to ask questions.  Innovators ask more questions and these questions are also more provocative:
  • They ask "what is?" questions, to find out what is happening in the here and now.
  • They also ask "what caused?" questions - both these types of questions are descriptive questions.
  • Next come the disruptive questions, the ones that move your thinking forward.  These are the "why?" and "why not?" questions.
  • Finally they ask the "what if?" questions, these ones lead to the heart of innovation.
Why do people find it so hard to ask question?  Mostly, it seems, it's because they don't want to look stupid and because they fear being regarded as uncooperative and disagreeable, so find it easier to stay quiet.  My own experience has shown me that there are some places where it is safe to ask questions and others where it is not.  The schools where it is safe are the innovative schools, the ones that want to move in new directions.  And I've also learned that these are the schools where I want to work.

Photo Credit: Tc Morgan via Compfight cc

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