This is going to surprise you, but you already have all the tools you need to be an innovator: your senses.
Simply put, opportunities are all around us. When we take the time to notice them, they can stimulate more creative thoughts within each of us. Contrary to popular belief, creative genius can be developed. But just like everything that is important, it takes work.
Studies have identified 5 core skills of successful innovators, these complementary skills form the Innovator’s DNA:
- Associating. The ability to connect and combine ideas to form new ideas.
- Questioning. The ability to probe and ask provocative questions that challenge the status-quo.
- Observing. The ability to observe the world around you—including customers, products, services, technologies, and companies—and the observations help you gain insights into and ideas for new ways of doing things.
- Networking. The ability to diversify your network to learn from others, not just hang out with people who are just like you.
- Experimenting. The ability to try new experience and put ideas into action.
I would add visualization to that list too because you have to be able to communicate your ideas in the form of a sketch, drawing or anything that looks like a prototype. You don’t have to be an artist to be able to sketch ideas, you just have to be able to take what you see in your head and draw it with stick figures on a piece of paper.
This last point is very important because modern innovation methodologies require that anyone be able to understand context via observation and questions, identify insights, synthesize those insights into ideas in the form of a prototype.
For more specific tools that will help enhance the above abilities, here are a few that I use:
- Mindmaps. I’m a self-c0nfessed mindmapper, and I’m still astounded at how little mindmaps are used. If you really want to develop your ability to be creative, to look at both the big picture and small, to think strategically; mindmaps will do you good. There are many mindmapping providers, I use Mindjet. But honestly all you need is a blank piece of paper, a pen or pencil, and you’re all set. If anything doing it in a piece of paper is more effective because it makes you put more effort into it. You can then use your smartphone’s camera to scan it, convert it into a photo, and share it with colleagues.
- Journal / Recording tool. Beyond having something where you can write down thoughts and ideas, you want to have a “question bank” and an “idea bank“. Both will do wonders for your creativity and strategic thinking. Specifically, I use Evernote as my second brain because I can clip images, send photos that I take with my phone to my Evernote, record conversations and take notes.
- Information consumption tool like Pulse / Zite / Flipboard / Feedly. You need a tool to consume information of news, blogs, articles, tweets, instagram shots, etc. A tablet with said applications makes it a powerhouse.
- Twitter Lists. One feature that is still very much hidden from the Twitter experience is Lists. Which is sad because people are missing out on how to use Twitter’s full capabilities. The ability to create lists to segment specific themes and people from Twitter’s main feed is very powerful because you it can help you separate the noise from what is valuable. On top of that, by segmenting you’ll be able to have a clearer picture of what is really going on in the world!