[This is a modified cross-post of my comment on a great post by David J Lowe.]
Choosing to be an “innovator”
When we think of finding innovative solutions we tend to think of “innovators”, also known as “technology enthusiasts” who invent new techniques or approaches in their search for new or enhanced capabilities in some desired area. It usually turns out that a very small proportion of these inventions are potential solutions; in other words, they fail most of the time. This behaviour occurs at the extremely early stages of the lifecycle of an innovation.
In “Follow The Black Sheep …” David Lowe describes an effective approach to seeking advantages, not by seeking to invent innovative solutions, but by watching others who have found innovative solutions.
This is a great variation on the usual advice not to follow the crowd. That advice is, to relate to the theme of an earlier post from David, difficult to execute. We have all heard that: if we follow the crowd, we end up eating a lot of dust; or if we follow the sheep, we end up in the s**t. The difficulty with executing that advice is that, in being advised not to follow the majority, we are not being guided to do anything specific; where do we start? Any unusual action would seem to fit the bill!
His approach is much smarter because it gives us something to do. The advice is to look out for and to follow someone else who is already doing something unusual and apparently advantageous. Rather than performing a new action which might be completely worthless and to perform a lot of those in search of an advantage, his approach is to look out for a better approach which is already working. In this way, we increase our range of options and might even discover new combinations along the way.
Be an “early adopter”
As an approach to innovation, his approach is analogous to the “Fast Second” strategy. Rather than attempting to be the first to do anything, the approach is to watch other first movers and to emulate, and then surpass, those who have found advantages. It is the approach of the more effective “early adopter” (also known as “visionary”) rather than the ground breaking “innovator” (also known as “technology enthusiast”).
Rather than performing actions which are completely new and which might, but probably will not, turn out to be advantageous, his approach is to emulate the unusual, but apparently advantageous, behaviour of others so as to identify the advantages for ourselves. Rather than continually trying to initiate new behaviours, his approach is to focus on spreading effective behaviours which are already in use, albeit by a very small minority.
…and so on!
This then allows us to take the next step of discovering whether we can turn those advantages into benefits in the context in which we and others can apply the newly learned techniques. In this way, some of the new behaviours can, in time, be further adopted by the “early majority” and become new norms … and so the ball rolls on!
Thank you, David, for writing your post.