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Key to Innovation: Becoming an Observer

Key to Innovation: Becoming an Observer
Innovation

We all need to innovate to stand out from the crowd. But what is the key to innovation? The answer, or at least an important answer, is becoming an observer. By observing how we and other people do things, we will spot opportunities for improvements. The more we observe, the more opportunities we will find. We can then work to provide solutions for some of the problems. By becoming a good observer, we will recognize the problems before many people do and have first-mover advantage.

Here are some things you can do to innovate through observation:

1. Don’t take things for granted

There are many things which look usual on the surface but have some hidden opportunities behind them. So open your eyes to observe even the seemingly normal things. Observe how you and other people do routines, and discover the details you overlooked.

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2. Watch for inconveniences

Inconveniences are clear signs of problems. Are people waiting too long for something? Do they find it difficult to accomplish certain tasks? If you watch for inconveniences, either those experienced by you or by other people, you can easily find opportunities for innovation.

3. Watch for possible gaps

Sometimes we are so accustomed to doing things in a certain way that we can no longer see it as inconvenient. In that case, it is up to your imagination to spot opportunities for improvements. Maybe the current process is already efficient, but you know of some technologies you can use to improve the process even more. The difference between current situation and possible future situation creates a gap for improvement.

4. Follow technology trends

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To help you with the previous step, you should closely follow the trends in technology. Familiarize yourself with the latest developments in relevant fields. This way you will expand your horizon of what is possible and make it easier for you to spot possible gaps for improvement.

5. Watch how your competitors work

You can get ideas for innovation not only by observing how people work, but also by observing how your competitors work. Is there something they do well that you can learn from? If yes, then don’t hesitate to take the idea and implement it.

6. Observe different people at different places

To get broader perspective of a problem, you should go to different places and observe how different people do things. By observing people from different backgrounds in different situations, you will see different dimensions of the problem. This way you will come up with better, more complete solutions.

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7. Capture every idea

To avoid losing the ideas you get, you should write them down as soon as possible. Otherwise it’s very likely that the ideas will disappear and will never come back. So you should have a capture tool handy wherever you go.

8. Create a master list of problems

By having one central place to collect all the problems you find, you can easily compare one problem to another to find which one is more potential. If you want to, you can also classify the problems to make them easier to browse.

9. Review your master list of problems

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Every now and then, you should review your master list of problems to see all the opportunities you have. After reviewing the list, you can take one or two problems to work with. The best problems to take are those which are both painful and solvable.

10. Take action

Eventually, you can take action based on the problem you choose to provide a solution. By becoming a good observer, you will have a head start in coming up with a solution.

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Last Updated on November 5, 2019

How to Cultivate Continuous Learning to Stay Competitive

How to Cultivate Continuous Learning to Stay Competitive

Assuming the public school system didn’t crush your soul, learning is a great activity. It expands your viewpoint. It gives you new knowledge you can use to improve your life. It is important for your personal growth. Even if you discount the worldly benefits, the act of learning can be a source of enjoyment.

“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” — Mark Twain

But in a busy world, it can often be hard to fit in time to learn anything that isn’t essential. The only things learned are those that need to be. Everything beyond that is considered frivolous. Even those who do appreciate the practice of lifelong learning, can find it difficult to make the effort.

Here are some tips for installing the habit of continuous learning:

1. Always Have a Book

It doesn’t matter if it takes you a year or a week to read a book. Always strive to have a book that you are reading through, and take it with you so you can read it when you have time.

Just by shaving off a few minutes in-between activities in my day I can read about a book per week. That’s at least fifty each year.

2. Keep a “To-Learn” List

We all have to-do lists. These are the tasks we need to accomplish. Try to also have a “to-learn” list. On it you can write ideas for new areas of study.

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Maybe you would like to take up a new language, learn a skill or read the collective works of Shakespeare. Whatever motivates you, write it down.

3. Get More Intellectual Friends

Start spending more time with people who think. Not just people who are smart, but people who actually invest much of their time in learning new skills. Their habits will rub off on you.

Even better, they will probably share some of their knowledge with you.

4. Guided Thinking

Albert Einstein once said,

“Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.”

Simply studying the wisdom of others isn’t enough, you have to think through ideas yourself. Spend time journaling, meditating or contemplating over ideas you have learned.

5. Put it Into Practice

Skill based learning is useless if it isn’t applied. Reading a book on C++ isn’t the same thing as writing a program. Studying painting isn’t the same as picking up a brush.

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If your knowledge can be applied, put it into practice.

In this information age, we’re all exposed to a lot of information, it’s important to re-learn how to learn so as to put the knowledge into practice.

6. Teach Others

You learn what you teach. If you have an outlet of communicating ideas to others, you are more likely to solidify that learning.

Start a blog, mentor someone or even discuss ideas with a friend.

7. Clean Your Input

Some forms of learning are easy to digest, but often lack substance.

I make a point of regularly cleaning out my feed reader for blogs I subscribe to. Great blogs can be a powerful source of new ideas. But every few months, I realize I’m collecting posts from blogs that I am simply skimming.

Every few months, purify your input to save time and focus on what counts.

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8. Learn in Groups

Lifelong learning doesn’t mean condemning yourself to a stack of dusty textbooks. Join organizations that teach skills.

Workshops and group learning events can make educating yourself a fun, social experience.

9. Unlearn Assumptions

You can’t add water to a full cup. I always try to maintain a distance away from any idea. Too many convictions simply mean too few paths for new ideas.

Actively seek out information that contradicts your worldview.

Our minds can’t be trusted, but this is what we can do about it to be wiser.

10. Find Jobs that Encourage Learning

Pick a career that encourages continual learning. If you are in a job that doesn’t have much intellectual freedom, consider switching to one that does.

Don’t spend forty hours of your week in a job that doesn’t challenge you.

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11. Start a Project

Set out to do something you don’t know how. Forced learning in this way can be fun and challenging.

If you don’t know anything about computers, try building one. If you consider yourself a horrible artist, try a painting.

12. Follow Your Intuition

Lifelong learning is like wandering through the wilderness. You can’t be sure what to expect and there isn’t always an end goal in mind.

Letting your intuition guide you can make self-education more enjoyable. Most of our lives have been broken down to completely logical decisions, that making choices on a whim has been stamped out.

13. The Morning Fifteen

Productive people always wake up early. Use the first fifteen minutes of your morning as a period for education.

If you find yourself too groggy, you might want to wait a short time. Just don’t put it off later in the day where urgent activities will push it out of the way.

14. Reap the Rewards

Learn information you can use. Understanding the basics of programming allows me to handle projects that other people would require outside help. Meeting a situation that makes use of your educational efforts can be a source of pride.

15. Make Learning a Priority

Few external forces are going to persuade you to learn. The desire has to come from within. Once you decide you want to make lifelong learning a habit, it is up to you to make it a priority in your life.

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Featured photo credit: Paul Schafer via unsplash.com

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