How to become an innovator

Thomas Edison - The King of Chasing Stupid Questions
Thomas Edison – The King of Chasing Stupid Questions

“Well, there really are such things as stupid questions.”

This was a phrase uttered in my workshop last weekend. It was met with agreement among the crowd. But it struck me as an undermining of something core to the human experience.

Something deep inside me yawned at the cackles. And something else in me was a little bit offended.

You see, when we stop exploring stupid questions, and when we start mocking those who do, and when we think that exploring stupid questions is in and of itself a stupid proposition, innovation stops. And the dark ages begin collapsing in on us.

Here’s what I mean

  • People once thought having a personal computer in their home was a stupid question to explore. They were wrong.
  • People once thought sending humans to space was a stupid question. They were wrong.
  • People once thought Martin Luther was stupid for nailing his 95 Thesis to the door in Wittenberg. They were wrong.
  • People once thought no one would want to exchange messages 140 characters at a time and even if they could it wouldn’t matter. They were wrong.
  • Heck, people once thought pooping indoors was disgusting and unnecessary, a stupid idea. And they were wrong.

Instead, innovators posture themselves as curious to something. They feed that curiosity, run with it, chase every angle, and don’t give up until they are satisfied with the answer they discover.

Ultimately, innovation is fueled by a desperate hunger, fed only by curiosity, and endless searching. (Which is why R&D departments struggle to truly innovate. Their hunger is fed by a paycheck, their curiosity is impacted by corporate culture, their searching is limited by feasibility.)

So, if you want to get started at innovating something, here’s an overly simplistic bit of advice.

3 Steps to Becoming an Innovator

  1. Identify a problem you can become really passionate about. Something that seems broken or stupid or obvious. 
  2. Look at the problem from a different vantage point than everyone else.
  3. Chase that stupid question until you are satisfied. Then take a break and get back to it. Chase it until the answer is obvious. Then chase it some more until everyone thinks its obvious.

Stupid questions are never the problem. Giving up on stupid questions? Well, that’s a question to be further explored another day.






One response to “How to become an innovator”

  1. youthleadergina Avatar

    I was a too shy to ever speak up and share my ideas type of kid. I was so afraid of looking dumb, I rarely raised my hand in class. When a middle school teacher announced to our class “there are no stupid questions” I was given the confidence I needed to ask a question or share an idea. I learned I had a voice. So empowering. Thanks for sharing!

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