Innovation Begins By Changing How You Think

Innovation Begins By Changing How You Think



Innovation begins in the mind. When you decide to change, innovate, adapt or improve a product or service, you immediately enter into a new reality. It’s an abstract, yet very clear, reality – possessing an inherent feeling of possibility and chaos. Old ways of doing things are questioned and imagined-realities are considered. It’s up to you (the innovator) to know how to manage your reasoning to navigate this sea of abstract variables, possibilities and realities.

The first step is realizing innovation is not linear.

At some point or another, we are all taught efficiency is king. While efficiency is very useful, especially when repetition and standardized quality are the primary goals for the subject/profession, it conditions us to think about problems in a very linear way. Linear thought does very little to propel true innovation. In fact, I would go as far as to say that this type of reasoning hinders innovation and maintains a dangerous state of organizational comfort.

If we are to achieve true innovation, we must learn new ways to reason.

As designers, thinkers and innovators, we are continuously innovating and improving beyond what is expected. Whether we are creating a brand for a Chinese renewable energy battery company, or creating VR experiences for the military, every project begins the same way – adapting how we think about the problem. This adaptation, gives us the greatest chance to see what’s truly important and how minor changes can become game-changers.

If you search for reasoning methods, you’ll find a vast array to choose from. We suggest that you dig deep and explore as many as you can. But, to save you a little time, we’ve put together a brief list of our three favorite reasoning and thinking methods that increase chances for innovation-success. Each one carries with it enormous power, as they will help you and your teams consider divergent sets of possibilities, realities and outcomes. Like all skills (yes thinking is a skill), the more you practice at them, the better you will get.

Abductive Reasoning

This type of reasoning seeks to find answers to “what if” questions. It’s particularly suited for those who are finding solutions to ill-defined problems. It begins by looking at situation and, instead of working it out through from the beginning to the end (like a scientist or manager would), you begin by defining the result you want to see. This type of conjecture-logic helps teams expand their thinking beyond current realities, allowing new ones to take their place. In doing so, designers are able to better-define the problem and find paths toward the most satisfactory solution.

Holistic Thinking

Holistic thinking examines how things exist in an environment. It considers independent and dependent variables and how current arrangements can be modified to improve the system. You can see this at work in Amazon’s projected expansion into the brick-and-mortar grocery market. Shopping for groceries is one of the oldest market-activities on earth. Yet, Amazon is innovating this market by applying holistic thinking and rearranging the variables in the existing system.

Human-Centered Thinking

Going beyond functions and use cases, human-centered thinking considers anticipated emotions and meanings, particularly before considering possible solutions. It seeks to know how a customer feels as they enter a store, open an app or view a website. If done correctly, the innovators can create product and service experiences that connect with the customer on a level that goes deeper than standard feature/benefit-lists.

Human-centered thinking is more difficult than it sounds, mainly because it weighs, explores and identifies latent needs, which are most often unexpressed and consciously unnoticed. Doing so requires extreme amounts of empathy and observation, being able to put yourself in the end-user’s shoes and feel what they feel. When innovators do this (think the first iPhone), they are able to connect with the market on an emotional and meaningful level. Thus, paving the way for new products, services and markets that create tremendous value for the customer and company.

Don’t solve a problem – solve the right problem.

Inside each one of us (if we’re so inclined) is the inherent ability to innovate and change for the better. If we could pinpoint the one thing that gets in the way of innovation, it would be that people are not solving for the right problem. Many times, they are solving the symptom (making it smaller, faster, lighter) when what would make a true impact is something completely different – something unexpressed.

This is why how we think about problems is so important to innovation. It’s through the systematic application of different reasoning methods that clarifies purpose and effort. It also moves us closer to finding the right information that will ultimately lead us to the right problem to solve. We can’t get there by considering the linearly-obvious. We must first learn how to get outside our heads and navigate the ever-changing waters of new, possible and existing realities. Then, we can realize the best innovative-solutions for our companies and markets.

Author: Scott McJunkin

Bio: Scott McJunkin oversees the creative team at Parari Group (, a creative design and consulting firm, located in Hampton, Virginia. He and his team infuse technology, strategy and design to create compelling and meaningful brand experiences – online and off. He can be reached at 757-240-4968 or