In my research with coauthors, we have examined the question of why some people generate more insights than others. It almost always comes down to a combination of factors, the most important of which is being able to see things from a new angle.

 

For example, if you haven't read the book, Reality Is Broken, you might enjoy it. In the opening chapters, Jane McGonigal starts with a diatribe against gamers who waste their life on video games. But then she quickly turns on the reader by asking, what is the matter with reality that so many people choose to check out into video games? Could we redesign reality to provide the same rewards (e.g. feelings of accomplishment, progress, etc.) to draw these people out of their shells and back to the real world? It is a powerful question and a fascinating example of the power of seeing things from a new angle. In this case, asking a question allowed her to see things in a new way.

 

Alternatively, sometimes having a constraint can help you see things in a new way. My friend, Dr. Cephas Chikanda, a physician in South Africa described to me how the extreme resource limits of his clinics helped them see their practice in a new way. Based on evidence that male circumcision reduces the spread of AIDS, they were faced with the challenge of circumcising several million men in a few years. The extreme demand and their severe resource constraints led them to rethink their standard 60-minute in-office procedure. To overcome these constraints, Dr. Chikanda designed an assembly line where practitioners performed each step of the payment, preparation, operation, and discharge procedures in just a few minutes. As he told me, "in Africa, because we have few resources, we have to see things in a new way."

 

In addition to imposing constraints, exposing yourself to new ideas, people, or circumstances can wake you up and allow you to see things in a new way. Do this by going to lunch with someone new, picking up a magazine you don't normally read, or trying something new. You might be surprised what you find out! Make it a habit and I guarantee you will start seeing things from a new angle, which is the key to becoming an innovator.