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Is your innovation looking under the streetlight?

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Is your innovation looking under the streetlight?

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When it comes to innovation, there is a well known observational bias called the streetlight efffect.  It’s illustrated, if you’ll pardon the pun, by a nice story about a drunk man who has lost his keys.

A policeman sees a drunk man searching for something under a streetlight and asks what the drunk has lost. He says he lost his keys and they both look under the streetlight together. After a few minutes the policeman asks if he is sure he lost them here, and the drunk replies, no, that he lost them in the park. The policeman asks why he is searching here, and the drunk replies, “this is where the light is.”

A similar effect can often apply when it comes to our own innovation, be that as individuals or collectively as organisations.  We tend to stick to what we have already achieved, as that is tangible and evident and visible, and ignore that which has yet to be envisaged.

In the following talk, Stuart Firestein talks about the importance and value of knowing what we don’t know.  He goes as far as to suggest that this understanding of our ignorance should have as great a value as our understanding of our knowledge, and that our knowledge should serve to highlight our level of ignorance.

Therefore the value does not come from knowing a lot of things, but having the foresight to know the right questions to ask.  It’s a telling philosophy, especially for a social business that seeks to shift cultures away from one that resides upon the individual and their knowledge/achievement, and moves towards one where collective output is what matters, and value is placed more on being able to seek (and give) assistance from others.

Enjoy the talk.

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