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Productivity, Innovation, and the Power of “Why”

Spyglass_on_why 300p

Our productivity depends on innovation, and innovation is driven by intense curiosity – the quest to find out: “Is there a way to do this better, cheaper or faster?” This type of question prompted Elon Musk to found SpaceX, Larry Page and Sergey Brin to start Google, Jeff Bezos to create Amazon, and Michael Dell to start Dell. Asking “Why” prompted Sean Moore to invent the Crescent Rod, a curved shower curtain rod; and four Harvard students to invent Soccket – a soccer ball that generates electrical power for underprivileged families through kinetic energy. In her book “The Power of Why” business journalist Amanda Lang reveals how asking “Why?” can fuel innovation and promote a spirit of inquiry in your workplace. She offers valuable insights and excellent case histories. Her findings have helped executives and people from all sorts of life to be innovative and productive.


Questions are Crucial

An essential aspect of innovation is being a critic and knowing what things to discard. It is important to ask many questions and to continue investigating, without settling for the first answer that we find. We need to refine our questions and sometimes ask a bunch of subsequent questions. Examples of great questions are, “What’s wrong with it?” “How can we make this work?” “How can we make it easier to use?” “How can we make it safer?”

Most people stop asking questions as they become adults. However, children know the power of “Why?” They ask this question repeatedly in various forms. “Why do I have to keep quiet?” “Why can’t I stay in bed longer?”
“Why do I have to finish my breakfast?” “What happens if I touch the fan?” “Where do birds go after they die?”


Curiosity is Crucial for Innovation

Research shows that curious people have a higher chance to succeed in today’s knowledge economy. They challenge the status quo and assumptions. They ask a series of smart questions to uncover ingenious solutions to baffling questions.


Universal Problems

Innovators understand that the same problems happen in different industries. Perhaps another industry has already solved our problem, and we just need to adapt it and optimize it to our specific situation.

While we may want to implement a good solution as soon as possible, innovators continuously keep asking questions to perfect their conclusions and solutions. They also dare to separate and discard the solutions that did not fully meet the expectations.


Fostering Innovation in the Workplace

While companies cannot force innovation on their employees, they can create an environment that encourages employees to think and act innovatively. For instance:

  • Allow people to make honest mistakes.
  • Reward people for giving and trying new ideas.
  • Have brainstorming sessions.
  • Provide a playful environment to foster creativity.


Why and Why Not

Innovation depends on “divergent thinking” – seeing the world differently than everyone else. The innovation process requires constantly asking the two essential questions – “Why?” and “Why not?” These are the same two questions that children use to learn and understand the world. It is vital that you use these questions in your everyday communications to revive your curiosity. Being curious means thinking like a child and asking questions without self-consciousness. Also, it requires an open mind by staying clear of conventional wisdom and assumptions. You must have the courage to accept that your reasoning might be slightly or entirely wrong. View the problem from different angles and have the patience and perseverance until you find the ideal solution.


About the Author: Art Torres is an IT Quality Champion and Change Agent in the Finance and Insurance industries. Builds high-performance, customer-centric teams that enable swift completion of strategic projects with zero critical defects; resulting in higher profits and enhanced customer and employee satisfaction. Improves processes by developing and implementing policies and procedures, best practices, standards, and methodologies.



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