Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Successful innovation takes PIEER

Seven or eight years ago, I attended a lecture at Atlanta's High Museum of Art. The speaker (whose name I long ago forgot) was a professor of cognitive science at MIT. In many ways, his talk was standard--he showed slides of artworks and had us look at them, then he discussed the paintings and asked us questions. But instead of critiquing the art, he talked about how the audience should look at art. How could we use our mind to get more out of our trip to the museum? In his talk, he laid out five requirements for truly appreciating art.

And while I thought of his lecture whenever I went into a museum after that, I also found the five requirements useful at work. To me, they mapped as well to the disciplines of innovation and product development as they did to art appreciation.

(If any reader recognizes these or, especially, the professor who did the talk--I've searched Google unsuccessfully to date--please let me know. I'd love to cite him by name.)

Here they are, with my paraphrases of the professor's comments:

  1. Persistence - you cannot appreciate art by "wall crawling." You must stand and look at a picture for a long period of time. As you do, more details will become visible and your understanding will grow.

  2. Imagination - you must bring your creative mind to the work of art. What's happening outside the frame of the above painting? How would it look if you viewed the scene from behind? If you were in the painting, where would you be?

  3. Explanation - you must build hypotheses to explain what the picture is trying to say. For example: "This painting is a celebration of community."


  4. Evidence - you must be able to cite examples that support your hypotheses. It's not enough only to say, "This painting is a celebration of community." You must be able to add, "because it has lots of people working together at different tasks."

  5. Resourcefulness - you must use all resources at your disposal to understand a work of art. If you grew up in a farming village, compare this view to a similar view of your village. If you grew up in a city and never saw a scene like this, how does it compare to what you imagined a farm village would look like?
Think about the five requirements. Do they apply to your work? Would a greater application of persistence, imagination, explanation & evidence, and resourcefulness serve you well?

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(painting "Cotton Ginning Time" by Mattie Lou O'Kelley, via the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia)


Stefan said...

Hi John,
I'm trying to find your email address to write you a mail to ask if you would like to become a contributor to the Futurelab blog. We love your very insightful and down to earth posts, and think they would make a great addition.
If you could perhaps send me a quick mail to sko at futurelab dot net I can explain what this is about.