One of the privileges I (Robert) have as a research fellow at Stanford is that I get take Stanford classes, including at the Hasso Platner Institute of Design (shorthand dschool). The Stanford dschool focuses on human-centered design and celebrates interdisciplinary thinking. Hasso Platner is one of the world’s great technology entrepreneurs, the founder of pioneering enterprise software company SAP. In most settings, including business and R&D, risk is something to be mitigated and ROI is something to be managed through the use of rational planning. Management, for example, is selected on the basis of experience, track record and deep expertise. Yet the most fundamental innovations tend to come from outsiders or complete novices. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, for example, had essentially no work experience when they founded Apple and Microsoft.
Cultivation of positive black swans, as Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls them, with their incalculably large returns, requires a different sense of risk, or perhaps risk agnosticism. There are times when expertise is of value (most of the time). But there are times when expertise has no value, and times when expertise has anti-value, because the environment is so new, the rules so foreign, that expertise actually works against you. The expert strives for incremental innovation, the novice can leap frog him by coming up with something entirely new. And while experts are right most of the time, the rare times that they are wrong, they are very wrong, and those few times count for a lot.
The outside/beginner point of view is also useful when you are trying to escape the pull of a local maximum to find a more global one. Expertise is what pushed you up to the hill to the local maximum. Part of design thinking is taking a random walk away from the local maximum, which can be uncomfortable. Eschew local maxima!
Consider the following quotes:
A change in perspective is worth 80 IQ points.
– Alan Kay, Inventor of the Graphical User Interface
I succeeded as a cartoonist with negligible art talent, some basic writing skills, an ordinary sense of humor and a bit of experience in the business world. The “Dilbert” comic is a combination of all four skills. The world has plenty of better artists, smarter writers, funnier humorists and more experienced business people. The rare part is that each of those modest skills is collected in one person. That’s how value is created.
– Scott Adams
In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.
– Shunryu Suzuki, First Master of the San Francisco Zen Center
And so, in this vein, I present to you my easy to digest, mostly modern, reading list of innovation that comes from novice, outsider, or intersectional thinking.
- The Medici Effect – Frans Johansson – ~ $14 paperback on Amazon Excerpts
- The Innovator’s Dilemma – Clayton Christensen – ~ $12 paperback on Amazon Excerpts
- Adapt: Why Success Starts With Failure – Tim Harford – ~ $12 paperback on Amazon Excerpts
- The Black Swan – Nassim Nicholas Taleb – ~ $12 paperback on Amazon Excerpts
- The Underachiever’s Manifesto – Ray Bennett – ~ $10 hardcover (only edition) on Amazon Excerpts
- Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy – Joseph Schumpeter – ~ $12 paperback on Amazon Excerpts