08
Mar

Understanding Innovation History

The Gold Mine Between Your Ears by Alex Osborn is among numerous early applied creativity documents in the Humantific Innovation Collection. Published circa 1954-55 this now hard to find 21 page booklet documents the early applied creativity self-help approach by Osborn which tended to manifest itself around suggestions that readers should recognize their inherent ability to generate ideas as a route to a better life.

“The author proves that you have a gold mine between your ears – a mine from which you can dig riches rewards, not only in hard cash, but also in the coin of contentment.”

“Surely you would like to…make more money by winning promotions…think up more cash-winning ideas…become a better parent and spouse…get more fun out of life…The key in this case is a gift you were born with – your ability to think up ideas.”

Think UP was a concept that Osborn introduced in 1942 and it can be seen front and center throughout his various publications. Osborn died in 1966.

What is important to see in innovation history? 

Apart from the corny 1940s-50s remarks, such as Women can think up ideas with the best of men” what is valuable to see in applied creativity historical documents is the early appearance of numerous key innovation concepts such asEveryone is born with creative imagination.”

In practice we find that knowledge of such applied creativity history can significantly inform understanding of the innovation marketplace today. It can also enhance one’s ability to appreciate some of the inside jokes regarding some of the more entertaining marketplace trends..:-) Innovation leaders operating without such historical knowledge are susceptible to the “sliced bread has just been invented” phenomeneon often seen in popular business oriented publications seeking to excite new generations of readership.

For example: the notion of business leaders combining two ideas was not invented last week, but rather it is a well-known and certainly not advanced skill present in the historical innovation literature for 60+ years. Association of ideas and or idea combining (not two ideas but many) is a skill that appears in Osborn’s 1953 Applied Imagination text, abbreviated in this booklet, as well as in numerous addional applied creativity publications.

“Here is another powerful set of questions: What ideas can be combined? How about an alloy?- a blend? Combine Units? Combine purposes?”

Reading some of the more recent overhyped business design and innovation leadership books in the marketplace one might get the feeling that learning how to combine two ideas while converging (making a decision) is going to propell you into innovation leadership stardom today. Well, it’s always good to have a sense of humor is this business…:-) Clearly much more advanced innovation and cocreation skill is already required.

The truth is, many of the early innovation concepts seen inside The Gold Mine Between Your Ears including, idea combination, adaptation, borrowing, substituting, positive, negative, upside down, opposites, maximizing and minifying later evolved into what are considered today to be introductory Innovation 101 skills. Much has been built on those foundations. Many remain fundamental and important, but very few of those early notions are considered advanced innovation process skills today.

Idea generation and combination, once the central focus of the earlier applied creativity pioneers, is today considered low hanging fruit in the enabling innovation business. Today much more emphasis is placed on the framing of challenges and opportunities upstream from the generation of ideas. In the post-Osborn eras it became more widely recognized that if you get the challenges wrong or don’t know what they are, no amount of brainstorming solution ideas will do you much good.

Recognizing that much has changed in the innovation enabling business today, we think its always great to see original source materials.

Images Source: The Gold Mine Between Your Ears. Ticonderoga Publishers, 1954. Humantific Innovation Collection, New York.

Related:

Making Sense of Jonah Lehrer’s “GroupThink”

Teaching Complexity Navigation

Humantific Teaches at MBA Program

Humantific inspires SenseMaking MBA

Lost Stories in Applied Creativity History

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