I’m not sure if public sentiment has changed or if I’m simply more attuned to it right now. But ever since the publication of Jonah Lehrer’s book “Imagine: How Creativity Works,” there seems to be a rash of seemingly contrarian articles with titles suggesting creativity or innovation have to happen in a certain way to be successful.

Recent examples have included “If You’re Not Pissing Someone Off, You’re Probably Not Innovating” from the Harvard Business Review, “Sustainable Innovation Stems from Individuals, Not a Group” via Fast Company, and “Failure Is the Only Path to Innovation” on the Innovation Excellence blog.

Typically, when these articles appear, someone will ask me what I think about them.

My response?

I’m bored with all these authors claiming successful innovation HAS TO happen in the way they espouse.

C’mon. We’re talking about creativity and innovative thinking here people. These two wonderful things (or experiences or phenomena or processes or whatever you want to call them) are so glorious BECAUSE there are so many ways you can realize them:

Okay, I’m definitely not Dr. Seuss, but I hope you get my point. If you’re a creative genius, go ahead and be individually, singularly creative and never look back.

If you don’t consider yourself a creative genius, then surround yourself with other people, tools, and inspirations to help you be more creative. That’s the stuff I write about here, because I’ve used these techniques and have experience with them working successfully.

If someone wants to share another way innovative ideas originate, I’m all about hearing what they have to share.

But if they’re going to simply point out how successful innovation can only happen in a certain way (or how it won’t happen in some other way), well, then I’m just not that interested.

What do you think?

Does innovation only work one way for you and your organization? – Mike Brown

Download the free ebook, “Taking the NO Out of InNOvation” to help you generate fantastic ideas! For an organizational creativity boost, contact The Brainzooming Group to help your team be more successful by rapidly expanding strategic options and creating innovative plans to efficiently implement. Email us at [email protected] or call us at 816-509-5320 to learn how we can deliver these benefits for you.

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Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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12 Responses to “Innovation – Can Successful Innovation Only Happen in a Certain Way?”

  1. Techconsumer says:

    If there was only one way to innovate we would hardly have creativity. Also all brainstorming sessions would result in the same new ideas, potential innovations. Therefore it would be appear whist there are some basic requirements or conditions to be present, innovation is as unique as each individual innovator. The dissimilar process of innovation discovery also agrees with the fact that many innovators stumble on their brilliant ideas. They often do not go through a process. If innovation is uniformised or put into too rigid a process/formula it cannot possibly result in true innovation

  2. AlexanderG says:

    I hark back to your previous posts, where the crime scene of the death of creativity is often the mandatory brainstorming session. I work best when given some room to breathe and let my subconscious take over. It works for my fiction writing and I think it works for my clients.

  3. Mike Brown says:

    I was with you right up until the end. Innovation can be in a uniform or more rigid process. It may not be as robust, but that’s not to say it’s not possible. My point is taking an absolute position on how innovation HAS to be done leaves you vulnerable to any contrary example.

  4. Love your intellectual integrity. Sadly, in their efforts to position themselves as creativity gurus, some people espouse dogma that can’t help but limit the creative options available to them and their followers. Of course, if all they’re seeking is a following, then it may work. A lot of folks do flock to confident people who can show them “the way”… 

    • Mike Brown says:

      Thank you for your very kind comment, Stephen. Your comment made me think about how the opportunity really is to maximize the creative options available to you. Saying something can’t be creative or innovative doesn’t help anyone, really.

  5. Chuck Dymer says:

    Mike, this is a great post. Michael Michalko, of Thinkertoys fame, distinguishes between productive (creative) and reproductive (critical/analytical) thinking. To claim that one style of creative thinking is “the way,” is a reproductive claim. 

  6. Selda Ozgur says:

    love the attitude 🙂 good stuff!!


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