Thursday, August 27, 2015

4 staminas of an innovator

Each of us has unique staminas – some of them come more naturally and some are built with rigorous practice. Examples are: running, weight lifting, reading etc. Some people can spend an entire day on WhatsApp without getting bored. I carry a view that innovativeness can also be built as stamina.  In an earlier article I wrote about “How to build curiosity stamina?” In this article I want to present the four staminas that I consider crucial for innovators: curiosity, experimentation, communication and collaboration.

Curiosity stamina: Being curious is easy, staying curious is not. Ask yourself this question “How long do you stay curious around one challenge area?” By now I have asked this question to several participants in my workshops. Most of them say, “Not more than a couple of days”.  That’s almost like being a couch potato or may be walking to your car every day while what you need is a running stamina of 5K or 10K. In a hyper active world where every day begins with its own set of problems, staying curious about one challenge area is difficult. That’s where one needs some discipline, perhaps of keeping a curiosity diary so that we don’t lose track of some of the interesting questions we ask ourselves. When do I decide to act on a challenge? One criterion I use is to check if I am still curious about it after a few months. Sometimes, I experiment around a challenge on the very same day!

Experimentation stamina: “But, sir, will my idea work?” Every now and then, I meet a guy who doesn’t like to share his idea openly in the class because someone may steal it. And he meets me after the class, tells his idea and wants to know if that idea will work. I usually tell him, “I don’t know. Why don’t you prototype and test it?” “That I will do, but I want to know if you think it will work.” That’s an example of low experimentation stamina. Similarly, I also meet technology enthusiasts who are busy perfecting their technology before they are ready to show it to customers. Many people just don’t get it that it is the speed of experimentation and the number of iterations that they can do that matters most. One of the participants in my workshop wanted to check if people in Bangalore would be interested in ordering filter coffee online in their office. He put out a web-page and got 30+ responses within a few days. He delivered the coffee himself to all the initial respondents. That’s an example of a low-cost experiment. How many experiments do you carry out every month? The answer could be a good indicator of your experimentation stamina.

Communication stamina: “I am not good at selling” our 12th grader son tells us. That’s not very different from how I used to think about myself perhaps a decade ago. Having done a PhD, I have been trained to represent things abstractly. It took really long time for me to realize that abstractions are not useful when it comes to communicating your idea. One way you can measure your communication stamina is by answering the following question – How many times do you present your idea before giving up on it?  Personally, reading the book “Made to stick” by Chip & Dan Heath was a turning point as far communication stamina was concerned. It provides a simple checklist to ask you for improving the communication. Is your message concrete? Is it credible? Does it contain a curiosity flow? Are you telling an appropriate story? These questions can lead to improving the design of your presentation. It is no surprise that I find movies like “A beautiful mind”, “Twelve angry men”, “The matrix” useful in explaining my ideas.

Collaboration stamina:  I feel that this is the toughest stamina to build. Why? Because it not only involves you remaining curious about a topic but also needs at least one more person to be with you in the explorative journey. Moreover, it adds new dimensions like – who gets the credit? How do you resolve things when you don’t agree? I have been fortunate enough to be part of a collaborative effort with my friend Prof Rishikesha Krishnan which lasted four-five years and resulted in our book “8 steps to innovation”. How long has been a particular collaboration? This is a good indicator of collaboration stamina. Where do you start to build collaboration stamina? I don’t know. But perhaps a good place to start could be listening and appreciating others’ work which could be related and yet different from your work. It would helpful to have a collaborator who agrees with you on a few core assumptions (beliefs) at least as a starting point. The ultimate test of collaboration stamina is the ability to collaborate with someone who holds views exactly opposite that of yours. This is known as adversarial collaboration. Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman talks about his experience with adversarial collaboration here.

Well, this is my list of 4 staminas useful for an innovator. Perhaps yours may be different. Happy to hear from you. Who knows? It may lead to collaboration!


  1. Very Interesting article.
    Can we think of "Ability to take criticism" as a stamina? While embarking on the journey of innovation, an individual may find himself amidst people who talks about why he can't succeed or how bogus the idea is.

    1. Yes, Swati. We could look at the ability to take criticism as a stamina. When someone says your idea is bogus, it is important and not so easy to reply, "Can you please elaborate?" It is related to the biggest source of ideas - listening. 15th century poet Kabir knew it when he said, "Keep your critics close to you, let them house in your yard". Thanks for pointing it out.

  2. Can there be Stamina of Continuous Observation? As meticulous observation is the first-principle in the process of innovation.

    1. Yes, Gaurav. I am assuming curiosity stamina and continuous observation are closely linked. Listening and observation are side effects of curiosity. Thanks for sharing your view.