Extracts from Myths of Innovation by Scott Berkun

Staying up too late and clearing up my desktop before a long weekend and have found a text file of quotes I’d taken from Berkun’s Myths of Innovation. Below are the extracts. Not entirely sure if I’m infringing copyright with such extensive quotes, but in any case I would advocate borrowing or buying the book – it’s well worth a read.

“If you ask psychologists and creativity researchers, they’ll tell you that it’s a myth: humans, young and old, are built for creative thinking.”


“Much like children, the people who earn the label creative are, as Howard Gardner explains in Frames of Mind “not bothered by inconsistencies, departures from convention, non literalness…”, and run with unusual ideas that most adults are too rigid, too arrogant or too afraid to entertain.”


“With the advance of civilisation, creativity has moved to the sidelines. Idea reuse is so easy – in the form of products, machines, websites and services – that people go for years without finding out ideas on their own. Modern businesses thrive on selling prepackaged meals, wardrobes, holidays, entertainments and experiences, tempting people to buy convenience rather than make things themselves. The need for craftsmen and artists, professional idea finders, has faded; more people than ever make livings Lloyd Dobler would hate: selling, buying and processing other things.”


“The systems of education and professional life, similar by design, push the idea-finding secrets of fun and play to the corners of our minds, training us out of creativity. We reward conformance of mind, not independent thought, in our systems – from school to college to the workplace to the home – yet we wonder why so few are willing to take creative risks. The truth is that we all have innate skills for solving problems and finding ideas: we’ve just lost our way.”


“The concept of brainstorming originates with Alex F. Osborn, whose excellent book Applied Imagination launched the industry of creativity books. Its  rise to popularity led to quick misuse of the technique as a panacea for every conceivable business problem. When it failed to do the impossible of tripling people’s IQs, reversing executive stupidity or instantly transforming dysfunctional teams, the business world turned against it, despite its fundamental goodness. Those who still use the term apply it trivially: when they find an interesting idea, they call it a brainstorm – “I had a brainstorm for reorganising my stamp collection binder.”


“The true essence of brainstorming as a method is well described in Applied Imagination, a fantastic read and a forgotten classic. The core message is simple:


You have three things: facts, ideas and solutions


You need to spend quality time with all of them


The great mistake is leaping from facts to solutions, skipping over the play and exploration at the heart of finding new ideas. Most of us are experienced with finding facts – they’re beaten into us throughout schools and colleges, and modern media pummels us with more. We’re also familiar with solutions, which are the end results that pay the bills and explain why we’ve survived in the world. But idea finding? What’s that? It’s what few adults are patient enough to do, yet it’s at the heart of creativity and brainstorming.”


Fact finding. The work of collecting data, information and piles of research about whatever it is that needs to be done.


Idea finding. The exploration of possibilities – free from many constraints as possible – and using or ignoring facts as needed to find more ideas.


Solution finding. The development of promising ideas into solutions that can be applied to the world.


Osborn researched which environments stimulated people’s creativity and this study led to the four idea-finding (aka brainstorming) rules:


1) Produce as many ideas as possible


2) Produce ideas as wild as possible


3) Build upon each other’s ideas


4) Avoid passing judgment


Rule 1

Sets the goal on volume, not quality (think Beethoven, Hoff and Pauling). Since we don’t know which ideas have value until we’ve explored them , spliced them together, or played with their many combinations, we want a big landscape. According to Osborn, a group of four or five properly led people can continually find new ideas for anything for half-hour to an hour, producing 50 or 100 ideas before running out of steam


Rule 2

Encourages the crossing of boundaries and the saying of illogical, unexpected and unpredictable things. Without those rules, we naturally inhibit what we say for fear of embarrassment: if you set outrageousness as a goal and reward it, you help turn that filter off, opening up the chance to find truly original ideas. Sometimes asking for the worst ideas for a particular problem can take you in entertaining directions, leading to places you’d never otherwise go. Have you ever been lost in a bad neighborhood in a new city, only to find a fantastic shop or restaurant? Discovery can have any origin and Rule 2 forces exploration


Rule 3

Like Dan Bricklin’s combination of innovations to invent VisiCalc, encourages the combination of ideas to forces creative thinking through hybrids and idea breeding. No ideas are 100% new: they’re all combinations of something and something. Making this explicit prevents people from suppressing ideas for the fear of stepping on, or changing, an idea mentioned by someone else. NIH (not invented here) syndrome, where ideas from others are rejected, is a clear of violation of Rule 3.


Rule 4

Takes us back to the secret of the kid in the park. Judgement isn’t necessary during the exploration – we don’t know enough about the possibilities , so why would we reject or accept any idea? Would you buy the first car you sat in? Marry the first woman you met? When finding ideas, everyone needs to know his ideas won’t be judged until later.  And if the rule is volume (Rule 1), there’s no need to evaluate the initial thought, only to write it down so it can be explored later. Judgement is all too easy and there’s no harm in holding it back a while to give those ideas a fighting chance?


However, there are limitations. When done in groups, the human dynamics of social situations come into play. Is everyone trying to kiss up to the boss? Does the Fred always hog the floor? Is Jack afraid to say anything? Designating a skilled facilitator keeps things flowing and fair, and ensures that the rules are followed and that the meeting runs only long as needed. The vibe should approximate the playful environment of a park: a fun, low-stress, free time to try things out, awaken dormant imaginations and take pleasure in chasing new ideas.”


“The top question famed innovators hear is “How did you start?” It’s the beginnings that drive our curiosity. Everyone wants to know where the magic happened and since they can’t imagine the magic sprinkled across years of work, they assume it’s a secret – a tangible, singular element hiding behind the start. Like our endless quest  to explain the origins of things, we’re prone to seeking magic in beginnings. It’s this desire that leads otherwise bright minds to research Michael Jordan’s breakfast or Einstein’s napping habits or Linus Torvald’s chosen style of underwear.”


“Dreams don’t run on logic: when we follow our emotions, we find both amazing and ridiculous things, and it takes time to sort one from another.”


“The trap of efficiency is that it’s not how explorers or inventors do their jobs: they turn their filters off for long stretches of time, trying to go where others haven’t been. They wander into inconvenience and danger, purposefully. Even when tasked with being creative, most people most of the time apply filters too soon.”


“The difference between success and failure is most often relentlessness, not talent or charisma (though those help).”