Do you remember the first thing you discovered that helped you to innovate? For many people, it was a tool or a technique like brainstorming, reframing, mind mapping or fast prototyping. We’d consider those items part of your toolset.  Other people got hooked on a process, like Design Thinking, TRIZ, or Creative Problem Solving, which we’d call a skillset.  Still others found that it was about being able to defer judgment, tolerate ambiguity, judge affirmatively, or mindsets.

Regardless of how you started, all three of these key areas are necessary for effective innovation at an individual or an organizational level, since effective innovative thinking has three essential building blocks:

  • Toolset: The collection of tools and techniques used to generate new options, implement them in the organization, communicate direction, create alignment and cause commitment.
  • Skillset: A framework that allows innovation leaders to use their knowledge and abilities to accomplish their goals. More than tools and techniques, it requires facility, practice and mastery of processes.
  • Mindset: The attitudes and resulting behaviors that allow the tools and skills to be effective. The mindset is the fundamental operating system of the creative thinker and distinguishes those leaders who enable creative thinking and innovation from those who shut it down.

It’s like cards: Three of a kind beats two of a kind

While it’s possible to make some measure of progress with one of them, or even two of these sets, without all three, here’s what happens

A tasty analogy:

Cooking is a creative outlet for me, so I think of this framework from the perspective of cooking. If you wanted to master the art of making omelets, you’d need some tools: a frying pan, a spatula, perhaps a whisk, plus eggs and other ingredients. But that’s not enough to master omelets. You also need to know how to break and beat an egg, perhaps sauté vegetables, and employ the skills needed to follow a recipe. But to be fully proficient at making an omelet from the left-overs in your fridge, you need to also know when to sauté which vegetables, when to add the cheese, and so forth.

Innovative thinking is egg-zactly the same, in that all three of these sets are essential for ensuring sustainable innovative solutions. While it’s easy to focus on the set that first captured your attention, digging deeper reveals that there’s more required to ensure ongoing success.

So what first piqued your interest, toolset, skillset or mindset? And what do you need to dig into next to lead sustainable innovation?

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