The Four Lenses of Innovation

"How do innovators manage to spot the opportunities for industry revolution that everyone else seems to miss? What is it that enables them to imagine radically new or different ways of doing things that will fundamentally change customer expectations and behaviours, or break long established industry paradigms, or shift the entire basis for competitive advantage?"

- The 4 Lenses of Innovation, page xiii

If you are looking for the answers to those questions and more, then you’ll want to devour Rowan Gibson’s book, The 4 Lenses of Innovation: A Power Tool for Creative Thinking, from cover to cover! Beautifully illustrated with visuals, stories and examples, Gibson explores the Renaissance past for clues to creativity and innovation. He converts what he finds into four lenses that can be used to unleash the innovation capability buried deep within us:

  1. Challenging Orthodoxies – the willingness to question long-held beliefs and assumptions about the way things are by asking why? and, why not?
  2. Harnessing Trends – noticing emerging developments across different sectors and disciplines and thinking about how they might alter your present course of action;
  3. Leveraging Resources – redeploying or recombining skills, assets, ideas or materials in new and different ways (think Lego blocks!) to create novel solutions; and,
  4. Understanding Needs – keying in on the frustrations and challenges facing customers that competitors ignore (often referred to as ‘pain points’ in business).

Gibson concludes by describing how big ideas are built and shares a replicable system for deliberately cultivating innovative ideas from inputs through to outputs and the infamous “Eureka” moment.

The Golden Egg

Golden Egg: The biggest takeaway from the book

You’ve got it In You!

"Once we accept that creativity is not a birthright of exceptional people but a skill that can be taught and acquired, we can begin to seriously tap into the latent innovation potential inside all of us and across our organizations."
- The 4 Lenses of Innovation, page 258

Have you noticed how many people are quick to write themselves off when it comes to possessing certain traits or talents – like creativity, leadership and bravery? We’ve all heard someone remark, “I don’t have a creative bone in my body”, “I’m not leadership material”, or “I wish I was brave like…” (and, be honest, we’ve said these things ourselves from time to time).

The fact is, we are capable of doing a lot more than we give ourselves credit for. It’s simply a lot easier to opt out than it is to opt in and devote the time and energy required to develop the trait or talent in question. Like anything in life, if we truly want something, we will find a way to get it. So, if you want to be more creative and innovative, if you want your employees to be more creative and innovative, then you have to deliberately focus on learning and practicing how to become more creative and innovative. And a great way to do that is to apply Gibson’s four lenses to a challenge or problem you are currently facing.

Gem #1

An actionable way to implement the BIG takeaway (Golden Egg) into your life

Patterns – See Them! Break Them!

"What the innovators are actually seeing is patterns. They recognize some existing configuration of things that doesn’t make sense to them (so they want to question or alter it), or an emerging cluster of trends that has the power to change the game, or a potential recombination of elements that could create significant new value, or a repeated pattern of behaviour that reveals a deep customer need."
- The 4 Lenses of Innovation, page 65

Patterns can be our best friends and our worst enemies! Due to the massive amount of inputs and stimuli that surround us, our brain is hard-wired to create and respond to patterns. We learn how to recognize danger, convert letter combinations into words and sentences, and interpret road signs. Games like tic tac toe, checkers and chess are won or lost based on our ability to see and react to patterns. It’s how we conserve our mental energy for more complex situations.

However, the downside to creating and using patterns is that we eventually stop paying attention to them. We do things ‘on auto-pilot’ without thinking, never questioning if that is the best way to do something. This behaviour even has a name – functional fixedness – “a kind of mental block that limits us to understanding and using the things around us only in the traditional ways we have learned.”

Ideas are nothing more than a pattern of thoughts arranged in a particular way. New ideas form when people generate different patterns or combinations of thoughts that suggest a more exciting or better course of action. Successful innovators are willing to disrupt the patterns that the rest of us have become complacent about.

So, here’s where you can have a little fun. Look for patterns in the things you do daily and see if you can break them apart like Lego blocks then put them back together in a different way. Change up the route you drive to work, use different ingredients in your salads or sandwiches, rearrange the furniture in your living room or den! Once you’ve shaken up these ‘safe’ routines, you can look for opportunities to experiment with bigger operational issues and challenges.

Gem #2

An actionable way to implement the BIG takeaway (Golden Egg) into your life

Sow and You will Reap

"You can’t produce big, breakthrough ideas unless you first generate the right kinds of insights."
- The 4 Lenses of Innovation, page 250

Gibson describes an insight as “something you previously didn’t know, or didn’t yet think about, that has the power to surprise and inspire you.” We might call them ‘ahhh moments’; times when we suddenly see or experience something that suggests a solution to a problem we are struggling with. Insights are the directional arrows that point the way to new ideas.

Unfortunately, our innovation processes too often rely on poorly managed brainstorming sessions. We review data the way we’ve always reviewed data (recall the peril of patterns). We settle for incremental improvements and familiar solutions instead of big bold changes. Gibson promises we will generate more meaningful insights and ideas if our data and brainstorming is fueled by his four lenses of innovation.

Give people permission to challenge the status quo. Explore the implications of emergent trends and combine your resources and assets in different ways. Approach unfulfilled customer needs from different angles. Try asking different questions and bring different people into your brainstorming and problem solving sessions. Use flip chart paper, crayons and yes, Lego blocks, to stimulate playful experimentation. If you want a different result, you have to do business differently!

Gibson has written a highly engaging book that outlines a systematic, proven method for developing and sustaining a more innovative culture within teams, organizations and communities. He explains the theories that underpin the four lenses of innovation and shares real-life examples of those principles in action. His methodology isn’t rocket science – it’s immensely do-able. All it takes is a commitment to using the four lenses to see challenges and opportunities differently.

You don’t have to land a job at Google, Amazon, Zappos, or Facebook to unleash the innovator that resides within you. You do have to turn off your auto-pilot and turn on your childlike curiosity about the world around you. Are you ready to start your own innovation renaissance?

Which of the four lenses would you be most comfortable trying first? Where might you use that lens to generate some new insights?

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Dianne Coppola

ABOUT Dianne Coppola

I am passionate about leadership development, change management, community collaboration and…reading! I’ve been writing for the Actionable Book Club since 2014 and love to share my book insights with folks like you...
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