In today’s rapidly evolving world, the ability to drive meaningful and positive change has become crucial. Innovation plays a vital role in shaping a better future, whether at an individual, organisational, or global level. This blog explores the essential skills required to define and create significant positive change. From curiosity and creativity to sense-making and critical thinking, each skill contributes to our capacity for innovation and problem-solving. By cultivating these skills, we can become effective change agents and contribute to the advancement of society.
The ability to define and create significant positive change:
Innovation can be demonstrated at various levels, from individuals with curious, open, creative mindsets supporting their learning, businesses developing and using new technology to strengthen the economy, and international organisations solving global challenges.
To deliver real innovation, we need to start by being curious. Curiosity is the desire to know or learn something to inspire new ideas and concepts. Using research skills like observation, questioning, information sourcing, and problem recognition will support us in understanding, breaking down and finding the root cause of a problem or opportunity to identify alternative solutions. We are all born with this curiosity.
As children, we ask questions and see things from unconventional perspectives but through learning to ‘fit in’, we often lose this ability. If we can use what is conventionally seen as naive qualities and combine this with the wisdom of experience, we will have a sound basis for solving problems well. As smarter manufacturing enables routine tasks to be done by machines, workers on the shop floor will be expected to have higher skills that support the ongoing improvement of processes and quality assurance.
The Siemens Electronics factory in Amberg, Germany, has pioneered this way of working. The plant has increased its production volume eightfold in the past 20 years (Webel, 2016). The number of employees has mostly stayed the same, but the expectations placed on them are more significant now. Workers have an overview of the entire production process, and curiosity helps them find patterns in data to suggest new ideas that improve efficiency. At the Amberg, factory employees are rewarded for their suggestions, which account for 40% of annual productivity increases at the plant.
The ability to be curious incorporates the following:
- Observation The ability to notice behaviour or information and register it as being significant
- Questioning The ability to ask questions to increase understanding about a subject or experience
- Information sourcing The ability to filter resources and information to find information relevant to an issue or topic.
- Problem recognition The acknowledgement and definition of a problem
Creativity is the ability to imagine and think of new ways of addressing problems, answering questions or expressing meaning; it is another quality we are born with (Meng, 2016). In the future, we will need to begin to see creativity in its broadest sense. Using our imagination and developing the ability to visualise alternative solutions or states support us to be more effective learners and workers (Jones, 2014) in any role. Its relevance will increase as we move away from routine tasks that typically do not require us to think differently or actively discourage creativity.
The emergence of new fintech startups like Monzo and disruptive technologies like Blockchain is shaking up the financial sector. These new ways of banking are encroaching on the territories of the big banks. The financial sector must look to highly creative individuals to develop new ideas to help them stay current and compete (PwC).
The ability to be creative incorporates the following:
- Imagination The ability to explore ideas of things that are not in our current environment or perhaps not even accurate.
- Header generation Proficiency at thinking and developing solutions and responses beyond rote or rule-based.
- Visualising Translating information and thought into accessible expressions, readable and recognisable images.
- Maker mentality is the ability to explore, through tinkering and making, to arrive at new ideas and solutions.
In this increasingly complex world, we need people who can make sense of the vast amount of information available to solve complex problems to the best of our ability. Sense-making is also about making sense of difficult situations and doing so in real-time to enable an adequate response. Some of the process-driven elements could be automated in the future. Still, combining analytical skills with a broad strategic overview of a situation is a uniquely human ability and will be invaluable in the future.
Sense-making determines the more profound meaning or significance of what is expressed and recognises broader themes and patterns in information and situations. Social enterprise is an excellent example of this in action. Companies such as Social Bite and Terracycle, which combine big corporations to recycle hard-to-recycle waste typically, have synthesised whole new business models from complex social problems by recognising commercial opportunities.
The ability to make sense of information incorporates the following:
- Pattern recognition The process of classifying information into objects or classes based on key features
- Holistic thinking The ability to see the big picture and understand subtle nuances of complex situations
- Synthesis The process of organising, manipulating, pruning and filtering gathered data into cohesive structures for information-building
- Opportunity recognition The ability to identify areas of opportunity for innovation
- Analysis A systematic examination and evaluation of data or information by breaking it into its parts to uncover their interrelationships
With abundant information available, processing, analysing and evaluating this to solve problems will be even more critical. Weighing up conflicting arguments using logical thinking tools and making use of these tools in a variety of contexts will enable us to do this in complex, ever-changing environments. With the increasing volume of online information from various sources, critical thinking is also required at a more fundamental level to help us tell facts from fiction.
Critical thinking is evaluating and concluding information to solve complex problems and make decisions. Engineering presents an evident environment where these skills are required. Still, in various roles, more and more of us will need to be good critical thinkers to develop solutions to future challenges.
The ability to solve complex problems incorporates the following:
- Deconstruction Breaking down a complex problem or system into smaller, more manageable parts before developing a new way of addressing the problem.
- Logical thinking The ability to identify, analyse and evaluate situations, ideas and information to formulate responses to problems
- Judgement The act or process of forming an opinion after careful thought
- Computational thinking The ability to translate vast amounts of data into abstract concepts and to understand data-based reasoning.
Innovation and change are the driving forces behind progress and development. To navigate the complexities of the future, we must embrace the skills necessary for innovation. Curiosity fuels our desire to learn, explore, and find new perspectives. Creativity empowers us to envision unconventional solutions and challenge the status quo. Sense-making allows us to decipher vast amounts of information, identify patterns, and derive deeper meanings. Critical thinking equips us with the ability to analyse, evaluate, and make informed decisions. By honing these skills, we can become catalysts for positive change, transforming our lives, organisations, and the world at large. Let us embrace these skills and forge a path towards a brighter and more innovative future.