Thursday, March 5, 2009

Want to be more innovative? Be less comfortable.

The 80th birthday of one of America’s great architects, Frank O. Gehry, got me thinking about innovation. Where do great ideas come from? Are they born whole or do they evolve? What do they look, feel, sound like?

Innovation is hard. It’s also easy. All it takes is the ability to take a giant, uncomfortable leap.

Comfort has its places, but the realm of creativity and innovation is not one of them. So innovators learn to heave themselves out of their comfort zones and launch into rarified, never-been-done-before air without a net. Without censuring or conscious thought. Innovators put faith in their experiences, their talent, their team and process.

Is it any wonder why serial entrepreneurs succeed so often? They believe in the absolute fact that they’ve done it before and they’ll do it again, present comfort be dashed. The money isn’t bad, either.

Get outside your zone

Innovation is not about what you know. It is, however, a lot about what you don’t. So chuck the map, take the corner and GO!…up maybe, instead of left. Step outside your comfort zone and look for inspiration outside your field of expertise—away from your knowledge base.

What we know too often interferes with innovation. We acquire such vertical expertise that we get too close to a problem. We know all the reasons something won’t work and all the dead ends. Having a can’t be done attitude prevents us from making the giant leaps that true innovation requires.

So if you’re a geneticist, look at the work of a photographer. If you’re a photographer, read a book on physics. If you’re a physicist, study a book on Taoists. Oh, that’s right, physicist Fritjof Capra did just that, publishing The Tao of Physics: An Exploration of the Parallels Between Modern Physics and Eastern Mysticism, a perennial bestseller translated into more than 20 languages.

A favorite source of inspiration

One of my favorite sources of inspiration is architecture. Like marketing, it combines business and aesthetics. It embodies emotion. Captures the imagination. Takes you places you’ve never been before. Inspires passion.

Arguably, one of the most creative and innovative architects of a generation is Frank O. Gehry. These masterpieces, which require immense computational power to plan and build, do not come from the mind of a computer genius. In fact, to this day, Gehry still cannot or does not use a computer in his work. Gehry’s innovations come from a mind that reveals itself in rough, childlike sketches. In these squiggles you can see the form of the new structure. The energy. The life.

Gehry is about creating, “an architecture rooted in the messiness of everyday life. His aim is to break down accepted social norms, to liberate the creative imagination.” His Disney Hall design was deemed, “a powerful and madly exuberant work.” (See “Review of Disney Hall: Reflection of the city around it” by Nicolai Ouroussoff, L.A. Times, Oct. 19, 2003.) His sketches prevent him from putting too many reality-laden parameters on the design while innovation is being born.

Watch Sketches of Frank Gehry – Bilbao and hear Gehry and others talk about the impact of his artistry. What’s amazing is that the Guggenheim at Bilbao comes from sketches like the one just below!

I like to put Gehry’s sketchiness and messiness to work when brainstorming creative solutions to marketing challenges. I like to forget what I know (those who know me might argue that this is especially easy for me) and assume, even if only for a moment, that it can be done and we’ll work out the difficulties later. That’s the way of innovation.

If innovation matters in your line of work—and frankly, I can’t think of an area in which it doesn’t—get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Photograph Disney Hall, Los Angeles, CA: ©2003 Paul J. Hydzik ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Photograph Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain, Getty Images/Dominique Faget/AFP

Ilustrations: Frank O. Gehry, courtesy of

Blog content: ©2009 Paul J. Hydzik. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.


Paul Hydzik grows brand value. As a brand marketer and award-winning creative leader, Paul has more than 15 years of experience driving business success from start-ups to blue chips. His strategic resume covers all aspects of B2B and B2C branding from go-to-market to consumer insight to identity development and all forms of marketing communication.

1 comment:

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