I have found the study of the history of innovation truly fascinating and eye-opening. It clearly shows how the concept of a lone “genius” conjuring up a unique, groundbreaking thought is actually very rare in reality. Along with the fact that the word “genius” has evolved in our usage with too many unproductive connotations, many of us have no true understanding of how innovation really happens. Because of that, many tend to exclude themselves as outsiders to what may seem like some kind of magical manifestation or the realm of the “scary smart people.”

Nothing is farther from the truth. People that we have knighted with the term “genius” actually may have more in common by way of a certain mindset, a way of behaviorally operating and asking tough questions, than specific levels of abilities or intellectual gifts.

The history of innovation chronicles how the advancement of new ideas is an alchemical process of mixing previous ideas, new observations, and diverse viewpoints and is propelled by collaboration. The old BBC series Connections (I’m dating myself here), ran for several seasons detailing how breakthrough inventions all evolved from previous ideas through adding new insights and experimenting/playing with established concepts or facts. Isaac Newton’s famous quote, probably one of the most famous quotes in the innovation field, pays humble homage to this, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

In the study of innovation, we learn that there definitely is a process involved; one that can be replicated. If innovation’s unique nature can be fully understood and nurtured by corporate management and small business owners -- acknowledging that “genius” can come from ALL employees working and actively sharing ideas together -- imagine the increases in productivity and growth of our businesses. Imagine if a firm’s human capital is fully tapped and put into motion to continuously evolve and differentiate themselves.

The caution is that while innovation can most definitely be made into an end-to-end process, the trick is how it is implemented, being careful not to subject it to “performance optimization.” We need to understand that innovation naturally springs from and is driven by our unique human nature, our core desires and abilities to explore and discover new ideas. Acknowledging where innovation comes from will allow innovation to flourish, will help us focus and reward the right outputs, and prevent us from choking its development by placing unrealistic, inflexible demands on it, thereby nullifying the process. Mitch Ditkoff, a top innovation expert and blogger, in his blog posts in our Innovation Library, "The Paradox of Innovation," poetically warns us about overburdening this process of discovery, and in "20 Qualities of an Innovator" emphasizes the personal dynamic behind innovation. Managers, understanding this innovation dynamic, can provide leadership by helping promote this very human process with both their internal teams and external strategic partners.

Bottom line: The study of innovation reinforces that we don’t need "geniuses," we need empowered business owners and employees taught to trust their internal creative capabilities and guided by a flexible process to explore new ideas. We will start exploring some of these processes in the weeks to come.

What are some of your thoughts about innovation and where it comes from?

The Institute for Innovation Development is an educational and business development catalyst for growth-oriented financial services firms. We position our members with the necessary ongoing innovation resources and coaching to drive and facilitate their growth, differentiation and unique community engagement strategies. The Institute launched with the support and foresight of our Founding Sponsor partners – Innovation Equity Partners, Pershing, Ultimus Fund Solutions, Fidelity, Meridian IQ/Advisor IQ and Charter Financial Publishing (FA and Private Wealth magazines). Together, we help make innovation happen. For more information or to join, click here.