We are always looking for the next innovation. Whether it’s a technological innovation or a business innovation – there is a lot of excitement surrounding innovations and thinking about all the different possibilities that could become true. We always want something new, something novel. But still, capturing the recipe for innovation has evaded us. We’ve seen innovations happen. How do we repeat them?
Let’s face it – innovating is difficult. Like, really difficult. It’s not something that happens at will. We have many different tools to help us facilitate innovation, like brainstorming, mind maps, bringing together people from different professional backgrounds and others. But these tools can only take us so far. How can we systematize the innovation process or can it even be done? There is a lot of research about the subject matter but here I want to present my personal abstraction for the innovation process.
I call it the Three I Method, or 3IM for short.
TheThree I Method presents the innovation process in three phases: Induction, Intuition, and Iteration. The innovation process begins with the induction of ideas, develops through intuition, and ends with refining iteration.
The first step of the innovation process is Induction. A phrase often heard says “All the ideas have already been invented”. Frankly, this is kind of true. Every new idea can be traced back to some older idea, if defined loosely enough. But that shouldn’t stop us from innovating.
Induction is the spark that lights the fire. But where did the spark come from? Not from nothingness. The matchstick of innovation was struck against the surface of already existing ideas. But the spark combined these ideas into something new, something innovative.
The second step of the innovation process is Intuition. Intuition happens when we act without conscious reasoning. It’s a weird thing for us, as most of our lives we feel like we are constantly thinking and weighing options. Artists, poets and philosophers have tried throughout the centuries to delve into their subconscious for deeper answers. To find something pure, something not tainted by rational reasoning.
When a painter paints with a brush, the painter doesn’t think about every single brush stroke. The painter trusts his or her intuition. Too much contemplation ruins the picture. The painter trusts the years of experience that has accumulated in his or her brains in ways that he or she couldn’t articulate – or think.
In the same way, birthing innovations require a deep knowledge about the subject matter and domain of application. Some of this knowledge can only be acquired through assimilation. To achieve this, one has to through themselves into the subject matter and let their subconscious take the reins.
The third step of the innovation process is Iteration. Iteration is the process of refining the innovation. How can we make the innovation better, more concise, more economic, more ecological…? The outcome of each iteration is the starting point for the next iteration. It’s a cycle of small improvements that lead to a polished gem of an idea.
Sometimes, we might have to go back to our iteration process. We took a path that leads to a dead-end, but it taught us something about the subject matter that we didn’t know before. And now, we use that knowledge to make the next iteration better than it could have been.
The iteration phase can last for a long time. It’s difficult to know when something is done, as anything can always be made just a tiny bit better. Intuition might take over and we follow some paths deeper along and then come back to iterating on them. But when we have exhausted all the reasonable paths, we know we are nearing something great.
To summarize, the Three I Method is just another way of abstracting the innovation process. It can be a new tool for your thinking when you feel like you are smacking your head against the wall. Make sure the ingredients for innovation are there. But remember, we still don’t know the recipe.