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A Zilver Innovation initiative

Thinking inside the box

Henry King of Monitor Group recently wrote an interesting commentary piece on Fastcodesign.com. King’s argument is that having limitations like standards has been critical to innovation in business, in opposition to the general notion that we need to break all the boundaries to truly innovate. King offers 5 examples of how standardizations help. Definitely a thought provoking idea…

King may have a point. Boundaries help focus attention on problems and help limit the process of finding solutions. In this case, ‘limit’ is not a bad thing…there are so many possibilities; we can make ourselves dizzy just thinking about the next option, the next change. Perhaps forced boundaries help create the sides of the ‘funnel’ that concentrates and directs ideas into fewer and fewer. Without boundaries, we can keep thinking forever. For innovation to materialize, we need to get beyond the thinking phase and into the ‘doing’ phase.

Of course the flip side of the argument is that if we never break the rules…if we keep the blinders on…we risk making incremental innovation and not game changing advancements. Sometimes standards or ‘rules’ aren’t permanent…just look at science. Things that were thought to be truths can be disputed and later ruled false.

In the end, a bit of both arguments seems true. It is important to question authority, but not blindly. Boundaries are useful for adding efficiency to the innovative process. They also help highlight challenges by creating a test condition of sorts. We see what people really want…their latent needs…when they have been forced to adapt to the rules. In this way boundaries serve as inspiration, until we learn what we need to change.


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  • Thought-provoking stuff. Perhaps Mr. King’s view has some validity, although I lean more towards going beyond boundaries than using them as limit innovation. I think there is a place for using limits to guide and focus creative thought, though. I like Fabian’s comment as well.