Innovation is a journey, the path of challenging constraints: the airplane was invented to challenge gravity, it flies because of the dynamics pressure on the wings but if you eliminate gravity there will be no need for an airplane.
In my work as designer at Mangahigh, I’ve found that understanding the context and the limitation without jumping to quickly to a conclusion is the best approach to make valuable products, I mainly find that my constraints help me innovate more than my freedoms. Constraints are my great ally, not my foe.
I’ve solved some of the problems in the education system and ultimately built something that as a team we are proud of.
Here are few constrains I’ve valued in my day to day work:
- No Emulation Rule. Don’t emulate eternally. By doing what the “master” does, you learn and improve. It is a very effective tool for refining something that is already known but it cannot be innovative. The minute you break from imitation you start to innovate. If you want to improve on something or make something new, you’ll need to tweak, shift away from, or disrupt the status quo by going beyond the existing model.
- No Certainty Assumption. “Sometimes when you start trying to address a problem, you don’t even know the right questions to ask.” I am always surprised by how many people approach me and say they want me to build an innovative solution to a problem, but they come with the solution in hand for me to design. It doesn’t work that way. Innovation requires not knowing — because you can’t — what the right answer is at the outset.Embrace uncertainty and start with small experiments to explore. Innovators are pioneers, and pioneers have a very different mindset than those treading beaten paths. When you’re trying out new stuff, you’re bound to be wrong or even screw up sometimes. Try not to be discouraged by small failures. Instead, see it as a data point for iteration that’ll help you explore new ground.
- No Focus Time Slot. Embracing lateral thinking, let go the vertical focus for a period. Innovation requires inspiration. Inspiration doesn’t just come out of nowhere. It just seems that way because it’s usually out of our focus. I harvest inspiration in every way I can: reading, people watching, site visits, conversations, vacations, movies, etc. Usually, that requires me to pause what I’m immediately working on to allow new provocations and ideas to enter my view.
- No Solo Climbing. I believe in informing my work by knowing the people I’m designing for. I have lots of interaction and conversations, and observe them in their everyday environments. I consult with colleagues and experts to further enrich my perspective. When listening to people, in addition to all the juicy, good stuff, I also get crummy advice, distracting inputs, and worst of all, heaps of discouragement. The innovator works within this constraint and becomes better for it. They build the “muscles” of hearing everyone out, but listening to those that help push the purpose forward — whether it’s criticism or praise — sifting the gems from the rough. Set up a collaborative environment with friends, family and coworkers.
- No imperfection. Perfection, if there is such a thing, is the outcome of innate being, or, for the rest of us, refining. That means there is something to refine. Getting it “perfect” is not an act of artisanship, because the true artisan remains in a state of perfecting. Looking for new ways of refining is core to that. Some call this “incremental innovation.” I’m reminded of the 85-year-old Sushi master Jiro Ono with his 10-seat, three-star Michelin-rated restaurant in Japan, who still dreams of crafting the perfect sushi roll after decades of making them. Don’t lose the aspiration and practice of perfecting, but detach yourself from a “perfect” outcome.