What do innovators do that imitators don’t? Innovators are alike in many ways, they ask more questions, observe deeper, cultivate a diverse network and experiment more.
Simply put: innovators are Hungry Minds; they have insatiable curiosity and a bias for action. .
So, does this mean that not everyone can be a Hungry Mind? Everyone can be, there are things we all have that enables us to be creative and see what no one else sees; we just have to put them into use.
In a recent interview Marc Andreessen, co-founder of A16z, laid out a few ideas on how to shape an innovative mindset:
Mental model innovation
When Marc Andreessen wants to think about deep issues like the state of the economy and technological change, he mentally spars with the likes of Peter Thiel, Elon Musk, and Larry Page — the people he says are the most audacious people who have worked in Silicon Valley. “I have a little simulation of Peter Thiel. He lives on my shoulder right here. I argue with him all day long.”
I do this myself and have written about it before. I call it a virtual board of advisers, King Arthur’s Court (my second name is Arthur, get it?). Basically, you accumulate as many different perspectives as you can and build a mental toolbox of approaches.
As Charlie Munger says, “You’ve got to have [mental] models in your head… and the models have to come from multiple disciplines because all the wisdom of the world is not to be found in one little academic department.”
You need to understand the world from as many diverse angles as you can. Mental models are a way to do that. They provide a fundamental framework for deciphering complexity so that you can optimize your decision-making.
Focus on questions
Questions are better than answers when it comes to innovation because they help us shift our perspective and see situations from a different point of view.
For example, many people believe that technology is a job killer. Andreessen disagrees, he believes jobs will change; not disappear:
Starting from the point of view that jobs are going to change — rather than disappear — means you can focus on more important questions. “How do we set people up to be able to take advantage of the change? How do we have change work for people? How do we expand opportunities?” he says. “The conversation I think we ought to be having is on the things we could do to have more people have access to all the opportunity that the new technology in many cases is creating.”
Be ruthlessly open-minded
Every decision we make is based on a set of assumptions which will be tested against reality; most of the time they will be wrong. This happens a lot when pursuing innovation.
The fear loss is a very strong force that impedes people from adopting or investing in new ideas, and everyone always comes up with reasons why something won’t work; venture capitalists, like Andreessen know this too well:
“Every highly successful VC has made mistakes of omission, really big ones, of companies that they had the chance to invest in, they should’ve invested in, they didn’t invest in,” Andreessen says. “Take the bet, lose 1X. Don’t take the bet and possibly miss on 1,000X.”
For example Ashton Kutcher, actor turned venture capitalist, explains why he initially passed on investing in Uber:
Confirmation bias is another strong force that works against us when making decisions, so we have to look for evidence that challenges our assumption. As Andreessen says, you have to take the ego out of ideas.
Predicting the future is easy, getting the timing right is the hard part
When it comes to evaluating what ideas will make their way to society, timing is the most factor that matters. Andreessen advises that instead of spending time overanalyzing whether something will work, try asking what happens when it does.
Again, shift your perspective.
Below is the full interview:
Bottom line: Innovation doesn’t happen in a straight line; it just doesn’t. It’s a much about attitude and perspective as it is about process.