During his 2011 State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama called innovation the key to America's rebuilding and growth in the century ahead.
Inspired by the message, Steven Johnson set out to identify the ideas and actions that foster creativity and lead to change.
He outlines his recipe for innovation is in his new book, "The Innovator’s Cookbook."
Simply put, innovation is doing something new, that works. According to Johnson, an entrepreneur, all of human progress depends on innovation and creativity.
“It’s important for all of us, whatever our field is," he says. "There is lots of room for new ideas. There is no kind of occupation that can’t be improved with innovative thinking.”
To discover the secrets of innovation, Johnson interviewed a group of innovative people, including entrepreneurs, software designers, artists and musicians, like composer Brian Eno.
“I talked to him a little bit about how he works. I said 'How do you get the band to be more creative with their work?' One of the great things that he does is that when he sits down in the studio to start working on an album, he often has the band switch up their instruments.”
At first, when the drummer plays guitar and the keyboardist plays violin, Eno admits they sound pretty bad. However, at the end, the process is liberating.
“They end up generating new sounds, new ways of playing together they wouldn’t have gotten to otherwise," Johnson says. "That’s a great metaphor for what you want to do in your own life; go and try things that you haven’t tried before and don’t worry about sounding bad because what may happen is you’re taken to some new place.”
Being open to new things also helped IDO, a design and innovation firm based in California, expand around the world. Johnson interviewed IDO co-founder Tom Kelley, who told him every Monday morning, the top managers get together for their weekly meeting.
“That meeting, for 20 years, has started with show and tell," Johnson says. "People are asked to present interesting things they stumbled across that weekend. Someone would say, 'Hey, I went to see a movie with my kids last night' or 'You guys seen this new game my kids are playing?' or 'I went to an art gallery the other day and it’s really interesting.' Tom said it ends up triggering all these new associations and there is something unpredictable about it that leads to new ideas for their actual business.”
Johnson shares these conversations about creativity in "The Innovator’s Cookbook," which also includes nine essays written by leading business researchers, who consider the qualities that allow creativity to flourish as well as what can kill it.
“It is absolutely possible to kill creativity. In fact, it seems to be more common inside most workplaces for the work environment to undermine creativity, to kill it, rather than to stimulate it and keep it alive,” says Harvard Business School's Teresa Amabile, co-author of "The Progress Principle."
In her essay, Amabile offers guidelines for fostering innovation in the workplace.
“First of all, people need to feel that they have some degree of autonomy in what they are doing," she says. "They also need to feel personally involved in what they are doing, that they find it in some way interesting, satisfying, enjoyable and personally challenging. When people are in that mindset, they're much more likely to come up with new and useful ideas. People also need to feel, across the organization, they have encouragement for coming up with new ideas.”
According to Johnson, creative minds also need collaboration.
“You think about Apple, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak founding that company," Johnson says. "Very different people; a brilliant engineer and a brilliant visionary and salesman, two totally different kinds of minds, and they needed each other.”
Johnson hopes "The Innovator’s Cookbook" will help foster new ideas and innovations.