From Plate To Frisbee To Nobel Prize
Since we’re constantly hearing the message, “be innovative,” you may wonder how to get to that place. In reality, the key is in the word “be.” There’s no place to go, except inside yourself.
Innovation is synonymous with creativity, and creativity is everybody’s birthright, although as with other human attributes, some people stand out. You’re an innovation machine, actually. All you have to do is turn on to that truth, and explore your innovative capabilities.
(If you doubt this perspective, take this blind spot test and realize that just because you don’t see something doesn’t mean it’s not there.)
Here’s some practical advice on how to flex your creative muscles: Relax. Explore. Play. This is the “be” of “be innovative.” It’s also the advice of the most celebrated innovators of all time. Physicist Richard Feynman draws a direct line from play to the contribution that won him and his colleagues the Nobel Prize for “fundamental work in quantum electrodynamics, with deep-ploughing consequences for the physics of elementary particles.” He tells how he was in the Cornell cafeteria when someone threw a plate up in the air like a frisbee. He watched it wobble round and round - and noticed the red Cornell logo was spinning faster than the plate it was on. It intrigued him, so he started playing with the idea. Feynman recalled:
“It was like uncorking a bottle: Everything flowed out effortlessly. I almost tried to resist it! There was no importance to what I was doing, but ultimately there was. The diagrams and the whole business that I got the Nobel Prize for came from that piddling around with the wobbling plate.”
However inspirational Feynman’s quote is, it reveals his blind spot. He calls his accomplishment effortless, but if he had not taken initiative to follow his muse, nothing would have happened.
Sometimes at work, innovation stalls because of dueling blind spots: We all see the need to create something new. But employees don’t see a path to add to a bigger picture and leaders don’t see the lack of a path. Nothing changes if we don’t. That’s where initiative comes in.
True initiative means “to take charge before others do” and creativity is, as expert Theresa Amabile says, the “formation of novel, appropriate, and useful ideas." We are the ones we are waiting for. What steps can you take give yourself and others permission and time to play with ideas just to see where they may lead?
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