Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Crucial First Step of Innovation

Most innovation fails to survive infancy because people engage in innovation doing before they successfully engage innovation thinking. Well before the learning phase of innovation, each participant should complete an idea “core dump” of everything they know or believe about the subject at hand. Whether completed on a roll of brown butcher paper, laptop, napkin, or whiteboard, every possible idea should be spewed onto the chosen media, and the core dump should not stop until the innovator has posited every idea they have.

Won’t some of these ideas be unscientific, opinion, hearsay, or irrelevant? If the innovator has truly exhaled all ideas related to the subject of study, many of the ideas will fit into these categories. Why, then, should we spend valuable time on this counter-intuitive exercise? Because somewhere in this pile of intellectual debris are clues that are important to development of the innovation. Strategist Gary Hamel said, “In an increasingly nonlinear world, only nonlinear ideas are likely to create new wealth,” and the innovation core-dump is often ripe with nonlinear ideas. Warren Bennis similarly noted, “Great Groups are not realistic places. They are exuberant, irrationally optimistic ones.” Canadian design icon Bruce Mau utilizes the core-dump process in his creative work: “Mau developed a working model that encouraged the designers in his studio to speculate first, and research later. The point was to come up with wild ideas, scenarios, possible solutions; then to sketch them, film them, express them in the form of collage pictures cut out of magazines, tape them to the wall…Mau came to believe that in those earliest stages of thinking about a problem, when people were unencumbered by data and expert opinion and conventional wisdom, they were most likely to happen upon and be open to fresh, unusual, and possibly game-changing ideas.”

Before you begin any creative or innovative endeavor, complete an idea core-dump. Innovation thinking always precedes successful innovation doing.

Dr. Gary Oster
Regent University
School of Global Leadership & Entrepreneurship


Innovation, ideas, invention, innovation process, ideation, productivity


Bennis, W., & Biederman, P. (1997). Organizing genius. New York, NY: Addison-Wesley.

Berger, W. (2009). Glimmer: how design can transform your life, and maybe even the world. New York: The Penguin Press.

Hamel, G. (2002). Leading the revolution. New York: Plume, 2002.