Getting better at innovation

This post would have been “Leonardo da Vinci – Artist and Engineer – Part 3”. But the real heart of this post is how to prepare for (and get better at) innovation. One of Leonardo’s strengths was his curiosity . He never stopped wondering “why?”. He also brought his “creative” side and his “practical” side together to find new ways of looking at a problem I believe that anyone can be an innovator. In fact, we all are innovators. .

In addition to curiosity and his creative/practical perspectives, Leonardo brought one more, very important, element to his work: fundamentals. Leonardo studied for weeks, even months, exploring the key principles that would affect his inventions. The results speak for themselves.

Leonardo understood the key practical principles

Leonardo da Vinci approached engineering more comprehensively than many of his contemporaries when they designed solutions for specific applications. Leonardo solved the immediate engineering problem, but he went beyond the specific application and conducted systematic studies of the fundamental characteristics of the associated design “building blocks” (e.g. gears, screws, and levers). As a result he, he gained a deep understanding of both theoretical and practical engineering principles that enabled him to surpass many of his peers. Five hundred years later, Leonardo still offers a compelling role model for modern engineers and a challenge to modern academia.

Understand the Basics – the Fundamentals of your work

So, what are the fundamentals that you understand about your work? Is there more that you should know? You already have ideas for how things could be improved… and your ability to innovate increases with your understanding of the foundational principles for your work – whether you are a florist, a mechanical engineer or a senior accountant. We all have the ability to innovate, to “create something better”. But the more we understand of “how things work”, the more successful we can be at identifying innovative new ways of doing things.

Learn – so that you can “create something better”

I’d encourage you to learn (and continue learning) the fundamentals of your discipline… so that You can innovate more effectively.

Best of luck!

– Dave Ranson

Innovation takes Capability AND Curiosity

Several times a year, I have the privilege of talking to university students about education and finding “meaningful” work. I’m often asked “What should I do to get a job in engineering?” I’ll encourage the aspiring engineer to “learn one thing well” – the fundamentals of their engineering discipline. It’s only from the foundation of true understanding, a grasp of the physics in any problem, that the engineer can grow to solve complex problems and to be truly innovative.

However, there is another, very important trait that is critical to innovation, in any domain:

The insatiable desire to know “Why?” – an incurable curiosity about the world around them.

Curious people think about the way things are – and how they could be. They’re driven to learn, to develop, and to grow… and then they help others do the same.

In a recent blog post, I suggested that “every one of us have the ability to lead in some way. It doesn’t matter if you lead a team or you just lead yourself.” I encouraged each of us to “look for opportunities to help the rest of us to be better.” Today, I’d like to suggest one way to do that: BE CURIOUS – and encourage others to be curious, too.

Albert Einstein, the famous physicist said: “The important thing is not to stop questioning. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day. Never lose a holy curiosity.”

“The important thing is [don’t] stop questioning… Never lose a holy curiosity.”

What can you do differently this week; not just in the traditional “R&D” sense, but in everything you do? Maybe you can think of a better way to share ideas or maybe there’s something you could do differently that would make your team more effective (or more fun). Think about the possibilities for better products, better service – or maybe a brand new way of looking at an “old” problem.

What if each of us began looking for better ways to work together with our colleagues – whether in our office or on the other side of the globe? That’s leadership – and each of us can do that. What would happen if we all helped each other by encouraging curiosity and exploration? I wonder…

I’ll bet you’re curious, too.

Credits:  Thanks to Matt Monge ( for reminding me that curiosity is important in every part of our lives.