Mind the Gaps: Build Basic Innovation Skills First

What are the connections between these three things?

First: Comics – the magic happens in the gaps between panels

In his terrific book Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud explains that comics are special because all of the real action occurs in the gaps between panels – this is the part that readers fill in using their imagination.













A huge amount of effort and creativity goes into making the comic, but then the reader finishes the story in her head.

Second: Tools Don’t Solve Problems, People Do

Here’s an apocryphal story making the rounds of various photography sites:

A well known New York photographer goes to a socialite party. On his way in the hostess says to him, ‘Oh I love your photos, you must have an amazing camera!’. They have dinner and at the end of the night, on his way out, the photographer comments to the hostess, ‘I really loved the food, you must have an amazing stove.

Third: Seth Godin on helping people be more perfect

Check this out from Seth Godin:

Most people in the US can’t cook. So you would think that reaching out to the masses with entry-level cooking instruction would be a smart business move.

In fact, as the Food Network and cookbook publishers have demonstrated over and over again, you’re way better off helping the perfect improve. You’ll also sell a lot more management consulting to well run companies, high end stereos to people with good stereos and yes, church services to the already well behaved.

The Story: Creativity Happens in the Gaps

I see the same story in all three pieces: Creativity happens in the gaps.

I’m a lousy cook.  So if I go out and buy The Fat Duck Cookbook, and follow each recipe as closely as possible, I still won’t be cooking like Heston Blumenthal.

Why not?  Because I don’t know enough to fill in the gaps.  As much as I love Scott McCloud’s book, I disagree with him when he says that “what happens between these panels is a kind of magic only comics can create.”  I actually think that applying creativity and imagination in the gaps also explains the other two stories.

We can only sell cookbooks to people that are already great cooks because they have the skills needed to be able to fill in the gaps in a recipe creatively and with imagination.  And this is why, as in the case of the photographer and the cook, focusing on tools can be incredibly misleading.

Innovation Happens in the Gaps

A couple of years ago, I met with the senior management team from a really large organisation in Brisbane.  They wanted to talk to me about being more innovative.  We started by talking about what innovation is, and then quickly went through managing innovation as a process, and a few other key ideas.

Then one of them said: “We tried a big innovation initiative a few years ago and it didn’t work.”

There were nods around the table.  I said something like:

“Let me guess.  You asked everyone for their ideas.  Lots of people submitted innovation ideas, but there was no mechanism in place for choosing the best ones.  You didn’t have any budget attached for execution either, so nothing much came out of it.  And in the end, everyone that put an idea in ended up feeling disillusioned and morale actually went down.”

As I talked, there were sheepish nods around the table.

They didn’t know enough about innovation to fill in the gaps.  They wanted to buy the innovation version of the expensive camera, or the great stove.

They had the same problem that Seth Godin outlines: they’re actually not good enough innovators to benefit from the tools that are available to them.

What Should You do If You’re Just Starting Out?

Forget about tools.  You have to build your basic innovation skills.

Once you’ve done these things, then you can go out and start buying expensive tools to support innovation.  But only then.

There are no innovation short cuts.  You have to build your skills first.

Once you have, then you’ll have enough knowledge to really use your imagination.  Then you’ll know that innovation happens in the gaps.

Read more from Tim here.

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Tim Kastelle

Tim Kastelle

Tim Kastelle is a Lecturer in Innovation Management in the University of Queensland Business School. He blogs about innovation at the Innovation Leadership Network.

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comment_post_ID); ?> I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
— winston
comment_post_ID); ?> In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
— Russ Wright
comment_post_ID); ?> "While I understand the intent behind this phrase" Expound please. What do you understand to be the intent behind that phrase?
— Ken

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