Today was a vivid combination of psychological, process and practical demonstrations of innovation at MIT. Here are some highlights.

The mind

Roberto Fernandez taught us that innovation is a mindset shift: "Look in the mirror: it starts with you." To innovate, leaders need to work at it by creating new habits. He demonstrated the power of cues and frames to render the obvious invisible to our eyes and mind.

From a psychological perspective, the brain has shortcuts. It is a post processor on slow visual feed (with a visual system bandwidth of one MB per second) ? in web terms, our eyes are laggy and the brain creates a coherent perception through ‘jump cuts’ to fill in gaps of a jerky feed. In addition, our training focuses our mind on what to look at, giving us high capacity to miss the obvious. And emotion sits deep in human brain. To mitigate these blindspots and enable new ideas, we need to consciously change our habits.

The process

Innovation is an organisational process. Design for it.

To illustrate this, we took an intensive look at the original ‘deep dive’ process deployed at IDEO, one of the world's largest product development firms in Palo Alto, California in 1991. This is the start of many of the process steps we are now familiar with through design thinking ? brainstorms, visual documentation, diverse perspectives diverging to converge, controlled chaos, open voting on ideas, rapid prototyping.

The critical point was that ‘it's not the idea, it's the process.’ The process takes the ideas to invention and implementation through the steps of sense making, visioning, relating and inventing.
What can I do differently in my workplace?

Key take outs for me were to:

  1. SPEED up and FOCUS the innovation process ? shorten and intensify (days not months), set goal and parameters, reduce distractions, do rapid prototypes, fail faster, celebrate stages, produce a result in a fixed timeframe. Deploy it for the products and services innovation that we are driving towards.
  2. Use the new innovation lab we're creating at Statistics NZ actively, in concentrated bursts of time, with diverse mix of people (insiders and outsiders), for specific purposes.
  3. Go out ourselves to talk with the users and see the products as they are used simply and quickly ? don't outsource our view of the outside world.
  4. Employ for more diversity, enable respect and openness for different voices, and enable a flatter structure through my actions.

The praxis

The real highlight for me today was a tour of the MIT campus focused on the research lab environment that has generated dozens of Nobel laureates, National Medals of Science, Rhodes Scholars, MacArthur Fellows and other awards through its thousands of inventions and innovations.

MIT has one of the world's tightest and most prolific concentrations of R&D labs spanning both academic and commercial sectors. Microsoft, Google, Intel, Novartis and countless others have placed their research facilities on or next to MIT's 1.6 kilometre long campus.

The gritty industrial and sleek modern buildings surrounding me this week turn out to be full of incredible inventors. We saw robotic prosthetics and exoskeletons, 3D glass printing, nanotechnology labs and self-programmable kids' toys.

The latest trend on campus is ‘growing’ ? combining engineering, computer tech and biology to grow organs, plants, nano particles. Inventions come from the student clubs as hobby activities, as well as from the formal labs ? this is the spark that started 3D printing as well as countless computer games.


MIT - people group

MIT - inside view

MIT - inside view