I know the adrenaline rush that comes with a new idea. In that moment, the possibilities are endless. But innovation should be more than just the creation of something new; it should be the creation of something lasting and meaningful. Truly innovative ideas often take time to emerge, and they are usually more about taking away rather than adding to. Like any good journey, they lead to unexpected outcomes that seem obvious only in retrospect.
When I designed a six-month diet and exercise program for myself last fall, I never expected that learning to feel full would turn out to be the most important outcome. I tried out seven different iPhone apps and started wearing a Fitbit 24 hours a day, and I generally dove into the Quantified Self movement. But in the end I discovered the feedback I needed to lose weight was built into the very enzymes and systems of my body. That doesn’t mean those apps and a little electronic pedometer weren’t useful; they were valuable steps along the path to finding the best solution for myself: becoming aware of my own body.
It’s the difference between layering on more complexity and peeling the layers away to find a simple solution already embedded in the system. We tend to throw both of these approaches together under the name “innovation,” but they lead to vastly different outcomes. We’ve started using “novation” around our office to distinguish the two. The emphasis on the “no” is our shorthand for editing down, getting smaller, making simpler.