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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 July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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