The Innovators Manifesto
Is America running out of ideas? Are idea’s a scarce resource that can eventually be depleted? These questions are worth asking when one reads Standford’s study on the production of idea’s and it’s relationship to R&D spending. According to the study, the productivity of researchers is declining by 50% every 13 years. In other words, in order to maintain the rate at which new idea’s and meaningful discoveries are realized, we need to double the level of R&D spending every 13 years.
The drying up of the idea pool has profound implications for the economy and society at large. New idea’s don’t just raise the standard of living, they are also crucial in solving and addressing the challenges that face all of us. How can we possibly expect to overcome our reliance on fossil fuels or the environmentally destructive effects of modern day agriculture if the idea pool runs dry? As a society we need to do better, we need an innovators manifesto.
There are most likely many reasons why R&D productivity is declining, but one of the main reasons is that we lack the cognitive tools necessary to generate creativity. For most of us, creativity is something which strikes with the unpredictability of a bolt of lightning. For others, (particularly in corporate America) new idea’s are demanded and expected within a certain period of time. Both of these approaches fail to make the most of our creative capacities for different reasons.
The Corporate America approach to creativity fails because of a fundamental misunderstanding in what is required to promote creative types of thinking. Corporate America operates on a principle of reward and punishment. If somebody generates a good idea they will get a bonus and if somebody underperforms, they will lose their job or be punished in some other way. This type of motivational structure is highly effective when it comes to increasing the performance of activities that require the usage of mechanical (i.e repetitive and predictable) skills. This type of motivational structure is horrible however for promoting performance in tasks that require even a rudimentary level of cognitive skill, and will actually lead to a drop in performance!
When it comes to leaving creativity to chance, this leads to underperformance relative to our creative potential since we aren’t being proactive in ways which encourage innovative ways of thinking to thrive. So what can we do? Well according to the research on creativity, we need constraints (limitations) in order to focus and provide a creative challenge that’ll motivate people to search for and connect information from a variety of sources to generate new idea’s. Without constraints, people will strive for the most intuitive idea rather than investing in the process of creating better ideas.
Down below you will find the innovators manifesto and by extension a solution to the crisis of creativity. This manifesto is a list of principles (constraints) one can use in order to generate new idea’s and new solutions to problems. Each of these principles represents a road that your focus and thinking can travel down. Each road will lead you to a different destination which means each road provides a pathway toward reaching different conclusions, perspectives, and idea’s.
- Customization: Customization is the tailoring of a product or service to a specific persons desires, needs, or interest. The principle of customization is a useful constraint, since it’ll guide your mind to look for things which currently aren’t tailored to you. An example of an invention that utilizes the principle of customization is Netflix and YouTube. Every single time you watch a video or movie, the algorithms on their platforms will give you recommendations as to what you might like based on what you have watched in the past.
- Automation: When a piece of technology or a service automatically completes a task on your behalf (This task is usually repetitive or predictable). In order to best utilize this principle, focus on a certain task or problem and identify a predictable and repetitive task that is still done by people. A good example of automation is automatic windshield wipers. Every single time it starts to rain, the windshield wipers will automatically turn on without the driver needing to do anything.
- Optimization: The principle of optimization seeks to maximize the effectiveness or performance of something. In order to utilize this principle, you should either look at the individual parts of a product, or look at the individual steps in the execution of a task. Once you’ve divided these things into their parts, you should look at each individual part in order to identify areas of possible improvement. An example of optimization in practice is the usage of smart clothing in working out. The company Athos has developed clothing which provides information on how hard you are straining certain muscles, and if a user is putting too much pressure on certain parts of the body. This is an optimization innovation since this invention maximizes (or seeks to maximize) the performance of something (in this case working out).
- Amplification: Amplification is when you increase the capabilities that a piece of technology provides. While amplification has a certain level of overlap with optimization, it is different then optimization since it seeks to improve rather than to maximize the performance of something. Furthermore, amplification encourages the development of new features while optimization focuses more on increasing the efficiency of existing features. An example of amplification is color TV since the ability for a TV to show color is an expanded capability that this piece of technology previously didn’t have.
- Conservation: Conservation is when you decrease the amount of physical resources needed in a product or in the execution of a task. A good example of this is the evolution of the cell phone. In the early 1990s the average weight of a cell phone was around 10.5 ounces. By contrast the iPhone 12 which was released in 2020 weighed 5.8 ounces. This is an almost 50% decrease in the total weight of a phone in only 30 years!
- Cross-Referencing: Cross-referencing is when you take an idea or a solution, and apply it toward a problem or to an area in which it hasn’t been applied before. Epidemiologist Gary Slutkin epitomized this principle of innovation when he used what he had learned when working for the World Health Organization, and reapplied it toward reducing violence in the inner cities. It was found that when communities treated and combated violence like it was a virus, the homicide rate dropped by 30–70%.
- Combination: Combination is when you combine two or more things to generate new idea’s or new solutions. The centaur (a mythical animal that is a combination of a human and a horse) is a very simple version of this idea within the field of literature. Another example of this the field of Cliodynamics. This field is the scientific study of human history, and is a trans-disciplinary field that is a combination of the fields of cultural evolution, economic history, cliometrics, and sociology. The final example of this the internet. If you combine personal computing, data transmission, and the idea of networks, the idea of the internet will arise. In fact this approach of exploring what technologies could exist at the intersection of existing technologies is a good way to figure out where technological innovation is headed.
- Divisibility: Divisibility is when you break an idea or a concept down into its prerequisites, parts, or features, and look at it as a source of generating thoughts that will lead to new realizations and insights. Alternatively, you can use this approach to identify commonalities among a set of idea’s as well that in turn could also lead to new idea’s or innovations. Let’s apply the principle of divisibility to music as an example to see how this approach can generate insight. The fundamentals of music are creativity, expression, and the organization of sound. If we look at the fundamentals of music, it seems that there exist a degree of order and a degree of disorder that accompanies this medium. Since music isn’t something which is completely ordered or disordered, this implies that the field of music is a great way to implicitly condition people how to think in more nuanced and flexible ways. Therefore, a possible antidote to political polarization is to actively promote musical education since this will induce the types of thinking necessary to see other people’s point of view. — Regardless of if this line of thinking is correct or not, you can see in this example how the fundamentals of certain idea’s can generate seemingly unrelated insights.
- Meta-Combination: Meta-Combination is when you repeat the process of combination two or more times, and then combine the results of your set of combinations in order to create something new. As an example of this, I will first combine the fields of psychology, art, and economics into one field. When I combine these things the following question comes to mind: “How does the monetization of human expression effect how we think, and does it have an impact on our capabilities to experience deeper levels of meaning?”. The next set of idea’s I will combine is sex, authenticity, and books. When I combine these idea’s, my thinking has led me to the idea that your sex life is very indicative of what type of person you are (your authentic self). If you are closed off, chances are that there is no deeper connection taking place between you and your partner. If you are sensitive, chances are your sex is slower on the build up. If you find that your sex life reveals a type of person that you don’t want to see, you should educate yourself (read books) so that you can have the knowledge necessary to escape your flaws and inadequacies. When we take the idea of sex as a yardstick for measuring the self and combine it with the idea of how the monetization of human expression impacts how we think, the following set of ideas emerge. Prostitution commodifies people, and reduces them to a product whose only purpose is to satisfy a singular need. The result of this is a person whose been ripped of their humanity, and has been stripped of any higher purpose. When prostitutes continually enter this state of mind on a day to day basis, they risk taking this mindset of commodification beyond the confines of work and into the entirety of their being. Therefore, it is imperative that people seek to identify themselves with something that transcends the identity of their profession so that they can avoid the conclusion that our economic system forces upon them: “That your sense of purpose comes from the products or services that you make possible for somebody else’s consumption”. — I could continue to go down this line of thinking, but you can see from this example how meta-combination works.
- Contrarianism: Contrarianism is when you intentionally contradict your own assumptions, or assumptions that other people make. By possessing a set of unusual assumptions, you will come to conclusions or realizations that most people wouldn’t have come to. An example of this type of thinking was the invention of the self-service store by Clarence Saunders. Nowadays, people are use to grabbing a shopping cart and strolling throughout the store in order to find what you want and what you need. Prior to the invention of the self-service grocery store however, shoppers were required to give a list of what they wanted to buy to a clerk. Once the clerk was handed this list, they’d fetch the merchandise while you waited up front. By challenging the assumption that shopping had to be done in this way, Clarence Saunders led to a revolution in shopping that permanently changed how people bought their groceries.
If you are choosing to use any of these principles, I recommend doing two things. The first is to make sure that you have enough time in order to allow for creativity to come to you. The second is to clear your mind of other concerns and obligations. If you are worried about other things in your life, this will reduce your ability to think clearly, receive insight, and focus on the insights that may come to you. If you can do these two things, the innovators manifesto should be a very effective tool in helping you generate insights that you wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise. Enjoy.