Innovation: Not “what if” but “how can”

Zane Safrit has a post about innovation: Innovation Key: Asking “what if”. image

Although “what if” questions might work, I have found that they support innovation more than they create innovation. What I mean by this, is that you must already have the innovative idea in mind, to ask the “what if” question. “What if, we try this new way”, we already know the new way.

“What if” is not a question that creates innovation. Asking “how can” is a question that does lead to innovation. “How can we unit test this code?”, ”In what condition, can we unit test this code”. Now we can think of ideas and start asking “what if’s”

Although “what if” is not a question that creates innovation, it is very powerful at allowing other ideas to exists. It comes down to two basic paradigms

The Either/Or Paradigm

The Either-Or paradigm is something that most of us have been brought up with, it starts with our parents: “Either you clean up your room Or you won’t be allow to watch TV”. This is not an allowing paradigm, it is a paradigm that says, you have to do it my way or the highway. Most of our training uses the Either/Or paradigm as it is a strong logical paradigm. “Either you pass the test or you won’t succeed in life…”, “Either you go to university, or you will not find a good job”

The Both/And Paradigm

The Both-And Paradigm can allow several ways to co-exist. It is possible to Both clean up your room and watch TV. It is possible to unit test this code by rewriting the production code or by using great tools. It is possible to have a great life without going to university. “what if” questions are a great way to open the opportunities and to move from an Either/Or paradigm to a Both/And one.

So ask “how can we do this” to get ideas and “what if” to allow them to co-exist.

  1. Good point. Thanks for the link.

    I like your post. I like it’s clarity. I also like how it broadened my own perspective. I love the last line: So ask “how can we do this” to get ideas and “what if” to allow them to co-exist. Thanks for all of that.

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