Was in a quick coffee conversation this afternoon with one of our local artisan metal workers on Bowen Island. He has been fascinated by bicycles for a long time and is thinking about how to build one that fits his 6’6″ frame. He has been scouring the net for information about building oversized wheels, and has decided that, as much as people are already doing it, there is something to be learned from “reinventing the wheel.”
Occasionally innovation has to go back to first principles. Often in the group work I do there are two approaches to innovation: stand on the shoulders of giants or reinvent the wheel. Both these approaches have some validity.
Almost anything you can think of doing has been done before by others. That doesn’t mean that “best practices” can be easily applied from one context to another, but knowing that someone somewhere has taken on the hard work of pioneering innovation – be it a product, a tool, an approach or a design – helps us to jump off from a starting point.
But sometimes going back to the beginning can be fruitful too. Often groups who have the time and resources can benefit from starting from scratch, thinking about how they could redesign what they were looking for if they had to do it from first principles. Groups that do that become resilient and build capacity, but it takes more time, and people will often accuse you of being inefficient.
I wouldn’t throw out either approach in doing innovative work. Be conscious about which approach will best serve and assemble the resources you need to build out from there.