The fastest way to innovate is by imitation with wisdom. The crude name is called copying. A better name is called cross-fertilization. A glorified name is called “Bench Marking” or adopting “Best Practices”. It is essentially adopting the practices found elsewhere (competitors, industry, other industry, other countries, and even in living things, environment etc). However, we must take note that simply copying without thinking and adaption does not work. Confucius warned us a long time along.
1. Learn with Thinking – Copying Wisely
2:15 子曰：「学而不思则罔， 思而不学则殆。」 Just learning without thinking results in confusion, Just thinking without learning results in harm.
We can learn from others, by doing experimentation, by exploration and by observation.
However we must do some thinking to figure out what are the general that can be applied and what are the specifics that need to be discarded or modified for my use. We are well aware of hardworking students that fail and the playful ones that excel in examinations. The difference lies in the ‘thinking’ after the learning. Hard working student that fail in examination tends to do more memorizing and less thinking. Their mindset is a linear list. The smart students do mind-mapping technique by classifying and reorganizing of concepts learned. The figure out the relationships among the concepts. They have less things to memorize and they can easily handle the new problem and information encountered. They can wisely apply what they have learned in new situations.
Just thinking without learning of real world data and experience will be impractical ideas. If you try to apply such impractical ideas, you will end up in failure and even injury. Our concepts must be supported by evidence and data else we are just building castle in the sky. Innovation comes in connecting wild ideas and reality. This is the next point.
Analects 7:8 子曰：「不愤不启，不悱不发。 举一隅不以三隅反，则不复也。」
Lack of trying result in lack of understanding. Lack of organized thought result in lack of clarity of speech. Pointing out one corner and not able to think about the other three, then there is no revision.
The first two points of the verse is covered earlier namely, learning must be accompanied by thinking to gain understanding. Our inability to speak well actually comes from our inability to organized our thoughts. Once our thoughts are well organized, even when we are not a language expert, we can still express and communicate clearly and simply. Maybe more people should attend a thinking class first before a presentation skill class.
The key to innovation is in the last phrase, learning one corner of a square and exploring and extending to the other three corners. If we are not able to do that, then we have not done sufficient revision or meditation. We may think we know, but we actually did not master it because we are unable to apply them into other areas. We get a fact but not the operating principle, such a cause and effect relationship, underlying the fact. We learned from “The Great Learning” about observing to gain insights and knowledge. We may need to understand Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning that classify learning into 6 levels of knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation.
The highest form of knowledge it the ability to predict.
The principle is that learn 1 and invent 3.
For a practical application, we know the Nuclear Reactors Incidence in Fukushima, Japan due to the 9.0 earthquake and tsunami. How many lessons and applications can you come out with?
3. Implement – Innovation is Implementation of an Idea.
Analects 7:25 子以四教：文，行，忠，信。
Confucius teach four things: knowledge, execution, faithfulness and trustworthiness.
In other words, innovation begins with a concept, a vision. It must then be followed by an execution. Any execution will encounter all kinds of difficulties. It takes faithfulness, or perseverance to overcome them. The usefulness of the innovation must be demonstrated with increasing adoptions and thereby create the trust which will result in greater and wider adoptions giving rise to the tornado effect. Innovations that failed to demonstrate its usefulness due to lack of adoption will not be able to cross this chasm of trust and die a premature death.
4. Share – Propagation
Analects 7:2 子曰：「默而识之，学而不厌， 诲人不倦，何有於我哉？」
Meditate to gain understanding, studying without complaining, teaching without tiredness, what are these to me? (i.e. not difficult for me to do them).
All successful innovators and entrepreneurs usually, without being forced to, willingly share their ‘secrets’ of success. Such sharing allows them and others to gain knowledge and to add to the total knowledge of the world. Knowledge management and Learning Organization are just two sides of the coin of an improving organizations and society.
The steps for high speed innovation are
copy wisely, invent, implement and finally share your successes.
Next: Learning Innovation from Confucius Part 8 Group Innovation
Lim Liat copyrighted March 2011