The simple half step principle for innovation

There’s a very interesting article on the history of camouflage in the Atlantic. It profiles one of it’s leading innovators, Guy Cramer, and a new concealment innovation called Quantum Camouflage.

Though the history of camouflage up to today is very cool, there is a paragraph I want to highlight regarding Guy Cramer’s thinking about innovation.

From The Atlantic:

But he wanted to do more. As a child, Cramer was taught to tinker by his grandfather, Donald L. Hings, a kindly old man and a self-taught scientist with more than 50 patents to his name. One of them was for the walkie-talkie. “When I was a kid, the Canadian army brought their radar trucks around to his garage to have my grandfather fix them,” Cramer recalled. So when Guy Cramer thought about inventing things, he tended to think big. But not too big. “Too often, people are looking for the most complex solution,” he told me. “When my grandfather trained me, he said, ‘Don’t look for new technology to answer your problem. Often the real solution is a hybrid solution. Find the simple half step.’”

There are a few points worth highlighting and reiterating again:

  • Eliminate complexity. Thinking big is simplifying the complex. Think about a mature services like banking, boy are they complex. To have a Big idea about how to disrupt banking isn’t to create a bigger and better bank by throwing more money at it and make it more complex. It’s to simplify it. It’s to think of a bank that doesn’t look and work like what currently exists.
  • Experiment. Very rarely the initiator gets credit for the invention, it’s usually the fast follower that makes a slight improvement on it that ends up innovating. Anybody can experiment. We all have doubts about some new idea. They key is to put your doubts and assumptions to the test. Is it doable? What works? What doesn’t work? Do people like it? Why do they like it? What did I learn?
  • Combine. Whether it’s creating something new or extending on something that already exists, creative solutions are really just the result of combining things. This is what Cramer calls ‘hybrid solution’, a combination.

Again, this isn’t anything new. No new thinking in here. And that’s the point. Like Guy Cramer, think big but not too big and find the simple half step.

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