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Innovators: 'They are not smarter than the rest of us or have access to a special part of the brain'

Divina Paredes | June 24, 2014
'...They just do things differently.' James O'Loghlin, host of TV show The New Inventors, distils the key traits that set innovators apart


James O'Loghlin has featured over a thousand inventors on his Australian TV show The New Inventors. His conclusion: Innovators are not smarter than the rest of us and don't have access to a special part of the brain -- they just do things differently.

In his keynote at the IBM SolutionsConnect 2014 in Auckland, O'Loghlin cited practical ways to foster innovation in one's daily activities.

"Innovation is a state of mind," he said.

O'Loghlin cited the case of Lloyd Linson-Smith, who designed a thermal switching valve that would automatically save the cold water from the hot tap. Linson-Smith observed that he wasted cold water, which went down the drain, while waiting for hot water from the tap.

His invention ensured nothing comes out of the tap until the water is hot.

He said people are thinking about ways to save water, but none of them realised they were wasting water while waiting for hot water to come out of the tap.

"How did we miss that? What are other opportunities we are missing?"

"If f we keep doing things the same way we have done, sooner or later we are going to be left behind," he stated. "Today's cutting edge practice becomes tomorrow's fax machine."

So what do innovators do?

First they set aside time to think. Innovators "rope off" a portion of their day to do this when their mind is fresh, he said.

"They are smart enough to know it [innovative thinking] is not what you do when you have time after you finish work. It is the work."

Otherwise, "you are over-prioritising today at the expense of tomorrow."

He stressed there is always an opportunity to innovate. "I don't want them to innovate with the taste of Vegemite," he cited. "I want them to keep it exactly as it is. It is perfect. But that does not mean there is no opportunity for innovation in the land of Vegemite."

Innovation, for instance, could be around systems processes or marketing.

He also advised looking at customer interactions differently. A difficult customer is an invitation and opportunity to step back and think, "How can I do that better next time?"

As well, he suggested spending a couple of hours noting things that are not perfect, or might be done differently, in 10 years.

"The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas," he said. "Spend a bit of time trying to think of them."

He quoted the writer Rosabeth Moss Kanter's famous quote about habitual thinking as "the enemy of innovation".

"We need habitual thinking but we need to find ways of breaking out of it," O'Loghlin said. "Because if we don't, we don't think of the cold water we waste every time we turn on the hot tap.


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