Unlocking Innovation (Part II of VI): Where does it come from?

This is a section of a six part series of articles that focuses on unpacking the complexity of innovation and showing the reality that innovation is attainable to everyone. Our goal from this series is to spark conversations and get people to look at innovation, creativity and leadership from a different perspective.

How do I start to innovate?

Building from the foundation laid out in our last article, titled: Unlocking Innovation: What is it?,  the next logical step would be to talk about where innovation comes from. This is a particular area of experience for Roman 3, our team carries significant academic and training expertise around developing thinking skills that are essential to innovation.

Innovation comes from two places: the people and the environment. In this series we will spend most of time talking about the external environment and situations that will foster and nourish innovation. But, as experts in workforce and professional skill development we would be remiss to not mention the internal skills needed to be innovative.

The most important skills needed to have an innovative mind

There are many peripheral skills that add to the success of innovation; creativity, perseverance, efficacy, and optimism, just to name some of the obvious ones. However, the cornerstone of the innovative mind has to be, without a doubt, critical thinking.

Critical thinking is one of those illusive qualities that are not really easy to define or to completely understand. There is not really 100% agreement on its true definition, limitations or the best methods to teach it (or even if it can even be taught!). Now I, W. Coby Milne, would like to think that I have a bit of expertise when it comes to developing and fostering critical thinking skills; it was the topic of graduate thesis, and I have had years of success teaching it at a post secondary level, through community education, to the public ranging from pre high school to post doctoral. What I have learned from the years of living and breathing critical thinking is that it is the cornerstone to everything that requires effort of thought. If you are looking to be creative, increase understanding, look at things from a fresh perspective, problem solve, or anything else beyond the shallow process of day to day interactions then you need to be able think critically.

What is critical thinking?

To avoid going to far down the rabbit hole with the depth and reach of critical thinking let’s will define it simply.

Critical thinking is a process of steps that include:

  • Understanding and challenging your assumptions
  • Analysing and evaluating information to weigh its relevance and importance
  • Gaining perspective; trying to see the information from every angle
  • Being open to all information, even if it is counter to your opinion
  • Making decisions that are open to adjustment.

Critical thinking as about being open minded, not accepting information or limitations on face value, and being reflective of the impact of your own basis, assumptions and motives. What it boils down to is, it’s about challenging the status quo of conventional thoughts and ideas, and having patience when it comes to formulate an idea or opinion until you have looked it from multiple perspectives and properly vetted the information you have been given. So if you are not quick to formulate an opinion until you have properly analysed the information you are given, and you are open to challenging your owns assumptions and the traditional way of thinking, then you are thinking critically.

So what does this have to do with innovation?

Well, basically everything. Innovation is about finding new and better ways to meet existing and future needs. You cannot discover “new and better”, challenge convention, and look at new ways to do things if you are not thinking critically. We mentioned in my previous article about innovation that the best examples of innovation are often not the most complicated. Sometime it is just simple ways to reusing, revising or repurposing existing methods and tools to meet a new need that ends up changing the world. This is only possible if the people who have had the inspiration, built the prototype, tested the method, and branded the innovation were thinking critically through the entire process.

So if you are looking to inspire innovation in your community, your business or yourself; then you need to foster the process of critical thinking. This is an absolute and essential element that cannot be ignored. Developing and strengthening your critical thinking skills is not overly complicated, but is multifaceted. We have worked on developing systems and strategies to build and support it in and teams, but for the purpose of this article, we would suggest these practices to get you started.

#1 – Deconstruction: Start to look at things no longer as a whole, but as a sum of parts. Everything from a sandwich, to an airplane, to a problem is not a large mass, but a collection of pieces that can be broken down and separated. This will allow problem areas, challenges and even frameworks for successes to be identified and tackled in manageable pieces. For more on this, check out this article on LinkedIn Pulse: Remember to Eat the Airplane One Piece at a Time: Some Advice on Goals

#2 – Scrutinize Information: Don’t let a single source of information, rumour, or “fact” be good enough for you. Look to verify ideas and information, even your own existing assumptions, before you form your opinions or make decisions. This takes longer, and you need to be open to carrying conflicting thoughts in your head (it could be true or not) while you are searching for verification. But, challenging assumptions and information is crucial to thinking critically.

#3 – Get Perspective: Look at everything in your life from a new angle. If you are annoyed with someone, try to look at the situation from their side, your side, and a third party. When you are trying to solve a problem, don’t just grab the same old tools, bring some new ideas and material to the problem and see if they could be part of a better solution, even if the new items are not helpful this time, you are opening your mind to creative alternatives.

The Takeaway

There is no way to be innovative without being a critical thinker. The people, organizations, and communities that will make a difference are the ones who engage in a depth of thinking and develop a distaste for convention and complacency. If you are looking to be one of them and engage in critical thinking to spark innovation, then we would suggest starting right here and right now. Don’t take our words as absolute, challenge the points, vet the information and look for new ways to incorporate this information.


Roman 3 is an advising and solutions firm that specializes in inspiring progressive action, creating a culture of innovation, and assisting organizations in implementing transformative change. We help you build capacity, collaborate, be progressive, and grow to your full potential. For more information on our services and support reach out to us at info@roman3.ca


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