Innovation is about doing nothing
Perhaps it is because I am more visually minded than verbally minded that I have always (in my mind’s eye) confused insight with observation. So what’s the difference between insight and observation?
According to one online dictionary, insight is ‘the ability to perceive clearly or deeply; penetration’. There are plenty of books and dull PowerPoint charts which talk about ‘the insight’. They aim to help us capture lightening in a bottle and have a ‘breakthrough thought’. Some companies have huge ‘Insight Teams’.
On the other hand, observation is merely ‘The act or faculty of observing’ or ‘An inference or a judgment that is acquired from or based on observing’. And this might involve the use of noting down or using instruments. Basically, insight sounds dynamic and observation sounds slightly passive and dull. But I am all for observation to fuel design creativity, because often the answer lies in the question.
Am I wrong? There are plenty of examples of genius stemming from loafing around looking at stuff. Take for example, the design genius of the bendy straw. In an article far more interesting than it has a right to be, Derek Thompson relates the breakthrough moment thus:
“Joseph B. Friedman was sitting at his brother’s fountain parlour, the Varsity Sweet Shop, in the 1930s, watching his little daughter Judith fuss over a milkshake. She was drinking out of a paper straw… since the paper straw was designed to be straight, little Judith was struggling to drink it up.”
Friedman went home “inserted a screw into the straw toward the top (see image). Then he wrapped dental floss around the paper, tracing grooves made by the inserted screw. Finally, he removed the screw, leaving an accordion-like ridge in the middle of the once-straight straw. Voila! He had created a straw that could bend around its grooves to reach a child’s face over the edge of a glass.”
Ok, it takes a special talent to first observe and then improve, but my point is that the journey began by just looking. It’s something I suspect we do too little of in insight teams and during insight brainstorms. And I would be all for doing it more and talking a little less.
As Ferris Bueller notes “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”