What Is Innovation?

Listen to the words of Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, and Seth Godin and you'll discover what separates true innovators from everyone else.

It all comes down to dots.

In his famous commencement speech, Steve Jobs said:

You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something—your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

Sir Richard Branson has a mantra that runs through the DNA of his companies. The mantra is A-B-C-D. (Always Be Connecting the Dots).

In his manifesto, Stop Stealing Dreams, Seth Godin wrote how students today are educated in "collecting dots. Almost none of it spent teaching them the skills necessary to connect dots. The magic of connecting dots is that once you learn the techniques, the dots can change but you’ll still be good at connecting them."

Helping a Client Connect Dots

Recently, this came to light when I was speaking with a client who was noticing things needing correction and frustrated that employees were not seeing, and addressing, the same things.

I responded stating it’s not a flaw of his seeing things and wanting to improve them that was the problem. The actual problem was why his employees didn’t see those details.

I concluded that this was the single difference between the innovator and the ordinary person: one saw the dots and connected them while others 1) didn’t see them or 2) if they did, they didn’t explore, question, or connect any of them.

This aspect of constant attentiveness to how things are applies to companies, products, brands, as well as to personal brands and is the foundation for this thing we call innovation.

The "What Is Innovation?" Video

Inspired by this discussion and some of today's more brilliant minds, I decided to write an essay on innovation.

The closing lines of the essay struck a chord:

So what is innovation?
Those other dots.
The ones others miss.
And having the certainty to know that the dots you see are not only valid but necessary if the world is to move forward.

So once this was completed, I decided it would work as a script for a video (instead of as an essay) for this Fast Company column. So I asked the graphic motion designer Rafa Galeano to add motion, timing, pacing, and sound.

You can watch the result here:

[Image: Flickr user Aaron Coe]

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