Sheena Iyengar Outthinkers Podcast

Innovation Strategies: Unveiling the Origins of Creativity

Sheena Iyengar is the S.T. Lee Professor of Business at Columbia Business School, where she has taught since 1998. A graduate of both Wharton and Stanford, she is one of the world’s experts on choice and innovation strategies. Famously known for her “Jam Study,” which transformed the way we think about products offered in the marketplace and how we curate them for customers, you may recognize her from one of her Ted Talks, which have collectively been viewed nearly seven million times.

Sheena is a masterful speaker and thinker on innovation strategies. She has published two books, The Art of Choosing, and her recent 2023, Think Bigger: How to Innovate, which has been hailed by The New York Times and The Financial Times, among others, as a must read for business leaders.

Listen to the episode now.

The Origins of Innovation: Combining Familiar Elements in New Ways

Innovation and creativity are often seen as magical, mysterious processes reserved only for certain gifted individuals. However, Sheena Iyengar recently joined the Outthinkers Podcast to break down how the spark of innovation can come from surprisingly ordinary sources.

Creating the Statue of Liberty

Consider Frédéric Bartholdi, the French sculptor who designed the iconic Statue of Liberty. Where did his idea come from? Bartholdi found inspiration during his travels in Egypt, where he saw large statues of women guarding tombs along the Nile. He borrowed the crown from ancient Roman depictions of Libertas, the goddess of liberty. The pose was inspired by Jules Lefebvre’s Le Vérité, while the statue’s face is modeled after Bartholdi’s own mother.

Bartholdi took familiar visual elements from various sources and combined them in a unique way to produce an innovative new symbol of freedom.

The Six Steps to Think Bigger

Innovation often arises from this same process of gathering familiar elements and piecing them together to create something new. In the podcast episode, Sheena Iyengar lays out key steps in her “think bigger” approach to innovation and creative problem-solving:

  1. Choose the right problem: Many people make the mistake of thinking the problem is obvious, and they actually end up solving the wrong problem. Carefully analyze to find the real issues.
  2. Break down the problem: There are often many reasons why a problem exists. Break the problem down into its most important challenges or subparts.
  3. Compare wants: What do you want to get out of solving the problem? What does success feel like? You want to go with the feeling rather than a number because here are multiple paths to getting to that feeling.
  4. Search in and out of the box: Observe what others have done to solve analogous problems by looking inside and outside your industry. Learn the best practices, revise and edit, and import them into your problem. At Outthinker Networks, our chief strategy officers and intrapreneur members get value out of cross-industry perspectives on their strategy and innovation challenges.
  5. Choice map:Imagine new combinations of tactics from inside and outside the box.
  6. The third eye: Present your idea to others and collect feedback. Ask others, how would you present this idea? This engages the viewer in the process of imagination. It allows me to see the holes in my idea and how that person filled them in. This might reveal other pathways to the idea.

The Future of Innovation

As AI continues advancing, some fear it may kill creativity. However, as with past technologies like cameras and computers, AI is more likely to open new creative possibilities. Artists are already using AI as a collaborative tool for generating ideas and refinement. With the right human guidance, AI may well take innovation to new heights.

Listen to the full interview here.

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