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Successful Innovation: Is it an Art or Science?

Shock, horror; learning STEM is not the answer! Well at least not according to Dr. Andy Harter in his thought provoking 2018 BCS/IET Turing Lecture. Thankfully, he also described the key qualities critical for success in the fourth industrial revolution. Read on to find out if you’ve got what it takes.

Harter kicked off the lecture with a poignant question about whether successful tech and innovation was down to an art or a science, giving much pause for thought, but more on that later. The following are the key qualities I took away from the lecture:

  • Creativity – This is inherent quality in every individual is not always teachable. However, it is important to nurture and inspire ‘sparky’ individuals. Creativity often works best when one is able to focus on human element and harness seemingly random ideas, thoughts and visions to solve problems.
  • Motivation is key – Necessity is mother of invention, therefore tapping into an area of need with real emotional connections to the individual can often lead to inspired breakthroughs
  • Story Telling – This can capture the imagination and turn mere functionality push into consumer pull. Great storytellers have lasting impact e.g. Nicola Tesla, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk and Steven Spielberg
  • Timing – Being too early or too late is as good as being wrong. For example, the ‘way-ahead-of-it’s-time’ Apple Newton PDA was responsible for the ARM chip (aka Acorn RISC Machine) which is used to power so many mobile devices today. Timing is everything.
  • Observation – Learn to observe carefully everything e.g. detail, structure, patterns. This is one quality which can be taught and which only gets better with practice.
  • Time / space to think – The hare vs. tortoise approach to problem solving describes how frenetic pace can get in the way of deep-thought and meaningful insights. Prominent thinkers have used and recommend micro-naps as a boost for productivity.
  • Simplicity – make simplicity a key principle. Know what to leave out and try not to solve problems that don’t exist. Jazz great, Charlie Mingus once said: “Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity”
  • Adaptation – this is key to survival in nature, business and tech innovation. There are far too many examples of failures to adapt to a changing landscape. Today’s enterprise must embrace the phoenix like business model approach
  • Generosity – Abundance is a state of mind most relevant to the digital age / fourth industrial revolution. Free software, apps and information powered economy is driven by digital abundance on an unprecedented scale.

Aside from the above, I found it interesting that Harter prefaced the above points by showcasing the works of that most forward-looking polymath, Leonardo Da Vinci, whose ground breaking works combine and span the arts and sciences, and so much more besides. In a world chock full of incredible opportunities, with amazing breakthroughs in: A.I., Autonomous vehicles, Internet of Things and Cloud computing, it is plain to see that the most profound impacts will come from combinations thereof.

In conclusion, it’s become more obvious that the polymath mantra to: “study the art of science and the science of art” in full knowledge that “everything connects to everything else”, stands true more-so now than ever, especially for those seeking to succeed in the 4th industrial revolution. In my opinion, any education or training that features and applies both the arts and sciences will beat the rest going forward. Just sayin’.

 

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