Expose Yourself

Author: Notre Dame ESTEEM

James Sallee graduated from Purdue University and worked for the Department of Justice for 6 years prior to joining ESTEM.  Below he shares some of his thoughts related to how we can all become more innovative.

Photo of a light bulb made from crumpled paper

In modern, developed economies a key to success in virtually every industry involves relentless innovation. Several companies try to redesign themselves to 
follow others in similar trades, and almost all of these efforts are met with limited success; this is often a highly disappointing result for responsible executives.
With the interconnected nature of business today, how is it that we fail to create innovation? Surely a perfect formula for the correct ratio of ‘creatives’ to ‘scientists’ exists... Are we simply looking in the wrong places?
The answer is simple: stop looking, and expose yourself. 
[No, not like that.]
Expose yourself to new people. You are surrounded by others, even in the most sparsely populated segments of humankind- this is because man is a social creature; built and honed against others of equal or greater skill, wisdom, and knowledge. Much like a blacksmith’s grinding wheel, you must generate the friction with the world around you; you cannot become sharper by moving with the motion of the wheel. Great ideas do not often materialize via thought experiments. You must interact with people who look, feel, perceive, and live differently than you do, whether you agree with them or not.
Expose yourself to new settings. The greatest innovation often arises out of what are ironically dubbed “unlikely circumstances.” This phenomenon could not be more inadequately named, as extraordinary circumstances are the only space in which extraordinary spirits ignite. If we accept that individuals truly shine when placed in a charged and diverse group of people, we can expect no less than greatness when we willingly leap into the unknown together. Being in a mutually unstable setting may be uncomfortable, but embracing the situation as an opportunity to grow, and see others grow, has tremendous value.
Expose yourself to having fun. The greatest corporate consultancy groups have achieved success in no small part by building a workplace designed for fun. An environment in which playfulness, judgment-free ideation, and cross-domain specialties are united is a potent reactor for innovative concepts. As children we allowed ourselves an unhindered freedom of imagination, which bore some of our most entertaining, educational, and cherished ideas; why shackle the capability now that you are grown?
Time to get out of the building and expose yourself.