According to Thomas Kuhn’s classic book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, youthful exuberance is a key driver of scientific discovery and change. This seems to square up with my own experience of product and service innovation. The best new ideas that I’ve come across, or have been involved with, have come from people – or companies – that have next to no formal knowledge or training.
Looking at the history of innovation, examples are legion and legendary. Amateur innovations include; mountain bikes, Tupperware, liquid paper, rap music, punk music, skateboards and possibly as much as half of the internet.You could call this beginner’s luck – a result that is seemingly at odds with experience or logic – but perhaps that’s the whole point. Older people naturally develop relatively set ways of seeing and doing things. Consciously or unconsciously they follow patterns. This links with how the mind works and, in particular, how experience cements pathways deep inside the brain. In other words the mind is fluid and ‘plastic’ prior to experience but tends towards rigidity afterwards.
As we age, experience and knowledge shut our natural childlike openness down.We become too old to be told. As the Zen priest Shunryu Suzuki famously said: “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”So what to do? I think the takeaway here is that many of our mental abilities are hidden to conscious awareness and thus instinct and intuition play a more important role than we imagine. We therefore need to cultivate innocence deliberately and even perhaps plan things a bit less (or at least be aware of the dangers of over analysis).