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Pilgrim Talks: David Pensak, Innovation Guru

April 18th, 2012

David Pensak

Author and Innovator

David Pensak is a devout believer in the importance of innovation and thoroughly convinced that we all have the potential to come up with great ideas, which solve important problems.   The difficulty is that as we have grown up (and during our professional lives) we have been told over and over that the only right answer is the one, which our teachers or supervisors want.   This is a bad situation because it undermines your confidence in your own judgment and makes you defer to authority without questioning it.   I'm not by any means advocating insurrection or civil disobedience, rather a set of process which enable you to make sure you are actually solving a relevant problem and that you have come up with one or more solutions which actually solve it.

The answer lies in our ability to look at our surroundings like a jigsaw puzzle and our learning to find new and different ways to put the pieces together.    It has been claimed that in a typical Sunday newspaper we have as much information as the average person during the Middle Ages encountered during their entire lifetime.   The pace of information growth is getting faster and faster.   Our brains are at the precipice of getting overwhelmed with quantity, quality handling of information is getting harder and harder.   We need to develop and embrace new disciplines of learning and organizing if we are going to go forward.

Innovation comes from just three sources - a need, dissatisfaction, or a curiosity.   While innovation has many definitions, the one I like best is 'the application of already known information to well defined existing problems'.  Invention requires discovering heretofore-unknown facts and properties but innovation does not.   Boiled down, innovation is just repurposing what is already known.   The crux of the matter is that the information may be known to others but not to you.   This means that you have to methodically determine what you don't know as it relates to what you perceive as an opportunity and either research it or find people who already know what you do not.  When lumped together you can, and should, go through an iterative process of narrowing down your problem and then generalizing it to make sure you are solving the maximal part of the problem and perhaps a broader one than you had initially considered.

Then comes a hard part.   Don't leap to a solution.    If you do, then you are already throwing away a lot of what you have worked so hard to cobble together.   Try and determine what the characteristics of a solution should be - a skeleton, if you will, rather than putting flesh on before the bones.

David's undergraduate school was Princeton University and he went to Harvard University for graduate school. Then he spent 30 years at DuPont, retiring in 2004 to teach and write his book. He has taught courses at Wharton Business School and the University of Delaware.  He has lectured at major corporations and all over the world.

To learn more about David Pensak and Innovation for Underdogs, go to davidpensak.com

To learn more about The Pensak Innovation Insitute, go to pensakinnovationinstitute.com

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