Curiosity may have killed the cat but at least it died trying to be innovative

Curiosity may have killed the cat but at least it died trying to be innovative   Google Docs

Agile principles should provide the perfect environment for the innovation fire to burn brightly.

Autonomy for development teams, cross functional and self organising in nature.  Understanding the why, access to customers and an eye on technical excellence.  So why does it seldom spark the blaze?

curiosity and innovation   Google Search

Curiosity is not asking questions – that just elicits information for a solution – that’s problem solving. True curiosity is to engage your interest in whatever is happening currently, large or small,  interesting or tedious.

Throughout history we have seen creativity and innovation come from the most surprising of places.  

The invention of the post-it note and Splenda, to the cure for Smallpox, have all come from those involved using curiosity to discover solutions to problems.  Hooking onto sometimes tiny details that others would miss.

So how was the cure for Smallpox discovered? Was it a bolt of inspiration that created the cure? Lots of work with medical experts? The creative thinking came from a conversation with a milk maid.
Those who had Cowpox had built an immunity to Smallpox. This led to the creation of the vaccination that would give immunity to the rest of the population.

Everyone knew that there was a pattern meaning milk maids were at low risk of getting Smallpox. It was so common place that there was this link, so obvious, that it was overlooked.  It was also due to the fact that Edward Jenner had the tenacity and conviction to bring attention to the fact and ensure widespread education and immunisation.

In science credit goes to the man who convinces the world, not the man to whom the idea first occurs.

— Francis Galton

Creativity is not always a sudden event, it does not occur as you sit more or less passively, it is not a thing its an activity,  the attention we pay to the small things around us.  Listening to an answer and following up with other questions, taking a real interest in people and situations.

We are too often in the modern workplace too busy to really pay attention to the small things that matter.

Inspiration develops from the habit of consistently paying attention to life’s small moments.

Another important emotion is embarrassment (gap between what you feel you should have done and what you actually did). Its instinctive to avoid it by covering up the mistake and not having the conversation.  Even those who own up to mistakes and recover the situation and even laugh at themselves, still seek to move on quickly.  What if you try to stare down into the gap and look for unexamined assumptions and bring them to light.

In the Labs of Queen Elizabeth College a worker was handling substances relating to new and improved insecticides.  He misheard what his lab boss said and although he was asked to test it he thought they said he should taste it. Not put off by his embarrassment he spent a year then perfecting a sweetener, known as Splenda.

18s16f3bzctidjpgShortly after the end of World War II, Percy Spencer, already known as an electronics genius and war hero, was touring one of his laboratories at the Raytheon Company. He stopped momentarily in front of a magnetron, the power tube that drives a radar set. Feeling a sudden and strange sensation, Spencer noticed that the chocolate bar in his pocket had begun to melt.

Spencer, who obtained 120 patents in his lifetime, knew how to apply his curiosity. So he did what any good inventor would do – he went for some popcorn. Spencer didn’t feel like a snack, he asked for unpopped popcorn. Holding the bag of corn next to the magnetron, Spencer watched as the kernels exploded into puffy white morsels.

From this simple experiment, Spencer and Raytheon developed the microwave oven.


A dislike of wastefulness is the mother of invention – when time is wasted you can lose your temper and replace the item or act with curiosity – how can I prevent waste happening again.  

James C. Fargo, president of the American Express Company, was well off and well known. It’s not surprising that he felt insulted when he couldn’t get cheques cashed during a trip to Europe in 1890. But the European bankers were steadfast. Fargo was not known to them, so they would not cash his cheques. Was an American always going to have a cash problem when travelling in Europe?
An employee of the American Express Company, Marcellus F. Berry, set out to find a solution. He wrote later: “There’s one thing every person does in a distinctive way. That is writing his signature. Therefore the foolproof device for taking money to strange places must carry the signature of the bearer. It must declare that it will be cashed only when a second, and matching, signature is added before witnesses.” On July 7, 1891, Berry was granted four copyrights for what he called “the travelers cheque,” and William Fargo, James Fargo’s son, got the first one. He had no difficulty when he wanted fifty dollars a few weeks later in Leipzig, Germany.

Creativity doesn’t require any special talent only attention.  Kaizen steps can help you become attentive.

We often hear people describe innovation as a thing that people do, if only we had more time for it, if only we had a team for it, without realising that innovation is everyone’s  responsibility. We just need to encourage the curiosity.  To create that trusting and safe environment where failure and embarrassment are not just acceptable but encouraged, where its seen as a learning tool.  Where ideas can come together.  To be seen as  a learning organisation.

Actually getting out there and talking to your customers and helping solve their problems, not just sitting alone in your office waiting for a great idea. Inventiveness occurs when you truly care about the little problems.

fearWhilst all of this sounds easy  its not actually how  we  are  all designed to react in these situations.  The chemistry of the body  and the brain  mean that we will find it difficult to react in this curious way whenever failure and embarrassment occur.

There are techniques such as mindsculptor to help with training yourself to be more curious, to overcome fear and inhibition.

Some of the best products and services come when people react in a curious way when in stressful situation. Curiosity is not our instinct, the Limbic system in our brain (amygdala) is activated by stress and the body is then flooded with anger and worry.  The creative cortex is shut down.  

You can learn to react differently to stress, replace fear with curiosity and get that creativity back.
Rehearse acting in a curious way. Only you can do it.  Do something amazing.

Article inspired by the book, the Kaizen way by Robert Maurer


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