Thursday, July 17, 2008

Innovation doesnt seem that Innovative

Professor William Duggan teaches strategy course at Columbia wherein he attempts to explain the strategic success in the realm of all human endeavors right from business to politics to war. He set out to discover why the word strategy was not used until 1810, a time when napoleon was at the zenith of his power. At the same time a German military analyst began his treatise called On war in which he endeavors to explain the key elements of napoleon’s success. He attributes napoleons success largely to what he calls coup d’oeil, which in French means “glance”. According to Clausewitz napoleon had an encyclopedic knowledge of military history which enabled him to apply successful tactics of past generals to new situations. He didn’t pursue territorial objectives but sought opportunities where he could replicate successful tactics of past battles. It was just a new way of combining past ideas and adjusting it to new situations. It was as if he was looking for some recognizable pattern wherein he could apply the same old successful ideas instead of any novel ones.
Research on expert intuition suggests that in urgent situations people make decisions by combining analysis of past experiences with a flash of insight. In the 1990s psychologist gary klein studied the decision making processes of people which were usually involved in some emergency situation or the other like nurses, firemen and soldiers in battles. Initially they attributed their decision making to insight however further probing revealed that they actually combined past experiences from their memories to the situation at hand. Our brain tends to take whatever it can and then it compares it with the things already present and when it finds a combination we get an insight. This process is opposite to innovation but this is the way innovation actually happens.
One can actually have a strategic framework wherein one first needs to stock his memory shelves with as much examples as one can pertaining to that field and then to open the mind to coup d’oeil one requires presence of mind which is to expect the unexpected and avoid forming any preconceived notions about the solution. This implies refraining from creating any plan prior to deciding a goal. But instead one must keep searching for opportunities and include an element of flexibility i.e willingness to move forward without detailed plan and also to change direction if better opportunity presents itself. Instead of starting with the question, What’s the goal? One must start with, What’s a good goal? And a good goal is the one to which one can see some way of reaching. One must not decide a goal on the basis of appeal but on the basis of some way to achieve it. The idea of having multiple possible directions is much more realistic in life and gives many more options. Just remember that some opportunity may arise that will take you somewhere better.

For Further Reading
Napoleons Glance by William Duggan

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