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I write a lot about the importance of innovation.

The agency for which I work wants to be innovative.

And the clients want to be innovative as well.

Create something new. Stay ahead of the trends. Stand out (in a positive way).

But actually innovating is hard.

Not just for big companies.

Also for the small, purportedly agile ones.

It's hard to come up with new ideas. (Like I tell my daughter when practicing the piano: if playing the piano were really that easy, everyone would be good at it.)

For big companies, changing the way things are done is risky – stakeholders could be disappointed if not alienated; market share could be lost; the brand could be humiliated.

For the small ones, trialing something new could sink the business if it doesn't work.

And for everyone, there's always so much else to think about. The mundane, everyday stuff, of the admin variety - not intellectually challenging, but definitely necessary.

Still, innovation happens every day. Like Bosch's paint spray system, which effectively renders brushes and rollers inefficient.

Another example: at an event I attended a few months ago for work, I got talking to a civil engineer. He talked about how a company was struggling to move tons of rubble from one end of London to the other.

They ended up using a ready-made highway that had been used to transport goods for centuries: the Thames. Which again makes perfect sense, if you think about it.

So basically? Innovation isn't necessarily about coming up with something new and revolutionary.

It's about looking at the context of things, and drawing new connections. Because cliched as it sounds, it can be one small idea, one unprecedented way of looking at things, that revolutionizes current ways of doing things and brings about genuine change.

The bigger question is: how can people best come up with innovative ideas? How can creativity best be fostered? (Dave Trott recently featured an example of this in his blog, of people who "used what was available to everyone, everywhere [...] to out-think everyone else.")

For me, it comes down to continuing to learn, especially looking outside my comfort zone (which is basically the arts and fashion).  The more articles I read and video I watch – essentially, the more content I consume – the better I feel placed to bring in fresh opinions, and look at things the way they haven't yet been.


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