I’m particularly fond of the final two topics and this, from Why is Greater Than How:
This complex world has made us over-emphasize How-based thinking and education. Once the tools are understood, understanding why to do certain things becomes more valuable than how to do them. How is recipes, and learning a craft is more than following instructions.
How is important for new practitioners focused on avoiding mistakes. Why is for those who wish to push, are not risk-averse and seek to improve. How is coulda, Why is shoulda. How is finishing tasks, Why is fulfilling objectives. How usually results in more. Why usually results in better.
This, from Dan Pink, is aÂ wonderfulÂ overview of the research into motivation, presented in typical Pink clarity:
We have a biological drive. We eat when we’re hungry, drink when we’re thirsty, have sex to satisfy our carnal urges. We also have a second driveâ€”we respond to rewards and punishments in our environment. But what we’ve forgottenâ€”and what the science showsâ€”is that we also have a third drive. We do things because they’re interesting, because they’re engaging, because they’re the right things to do, because they contribute to the world. The problem is that, especially in our organizations, we stop at that second drive. We think the only reason people do productive things is to snag a carrot or avoid a stick. But that’s just not true. Our third driveâ€”our intrinsic motivationâ€”can be even more powerful. [â€¦]
Both of us cite research from University of Rochester psychologist Edward Deci showing that if you give people a contingent rewardâ€”as in “if you do this, then you’ll get that”â€”for something they find interesting, they can become less interested in the task. When Deci took people who enjoyed solving complicated puzzles for fun and began paying them if they did the puzzles, they no longer wanted to play with those puzzles during their free time. And the science is overwhelming that for creative, conceptual tasks, those if-then rewards rarely work and often do harm.
A wonderful summary of the book’s main theme–that innovation and the spreading of theories and ideas is the key to a prosperous future and we should be optimistic for what lies ahead because of this–has been written by John Tierney, with a nice look at one reason why innovation and its companions are important for progress:
“Forget wars, religions, famines and poems for the moment,” Dr. Ridley writes. “This is history’s greatest theme: the metastasis of exchange, specialization and the invention it has called forth, the ‘creation’ of time.”
You can appreciate the timesaving benefits through a measure devised by the economist William D. Nordhaus: how long it takes the average worker to pay for an hour of reading light. In ancient Babylon, it took more than 50 hours to pay for that light from a sesame-oil lamp. In 1800, it took more than six hours of work to pay for it from a tallow candle. Today, thanks to the countless specialists producing electricity and compact fluorescent bulbs, it takes less than a second.
Is giving away a day a week of your employees’ time worth it? Google executives seem to think so. They cite first the enormous goodwill generated internally: “20-percent time sends a strong message of trust to the engineers,” says Marissa Mayer, Google vice president of search products and user experience. Then there is the actual product output which of late includes Google Suggest (auto-filled queries) and Orkut (a social network). In a speech a couple of years ago, Mayer said about 50 percent of new Google products got their start in 20 percent time.
Jack Hipple, a consultant who works with companies on innovation, says corporate support for employees’ natural curiosity can lead to better new product ideas than traditional focus groups: “You have to have some vehicle for side-project time because senior managers or customers don’t know enough about the future to know what’s coming.”
Casnocha notes that not all companies can offer side-project time, especially startups:
There are too many essential tasks that need to get done simply to survive.
Tom Kinnear, a professor of entrepreneurial studies at the University of Michigan, says Google and 3M both could support experimentingÂ after their core products became profitable: “At the outset there are such tight margins it’s hard to allow for side projects. The pressure from your investors to focus, focus, focus is just overwhelming.”
Associating: the skill of connecting seemingly unrelated questions, problems and ideas.
Questioning, especially “questions that challenge the status quo and open up the bigger picture”.
Close observation of details, particularly of people’s behaviour.
“Networking with smart people who have little in common with them, but from whom they can learn”.
In this Harvard Business Review article the two researches go on to talk of the key role inquisitiveness plays in creativity–that same curiosity one of the researchers found throughout a similar 20-year study looking at “great global leaders” and that you find in children.
We [â€¦] believe that the most innovative entrepreneurs were very lucky to have been raised in an atmosphere where inquisitiveness was encouraged. We were stuck by the stories they told about being sustained by people who cared about experimentation and exploration. Sometimes these people were relatives, but sometimes they were neighbors, teachers or other influential adults. A number of the innovative entrepreneurs also went to Montessori schools, where they learned to follow their curiosity.