Multiplication Center

Discovery Skill #3: Observing

February 3, 2015

DiscoverySkillsFeatureImageWelcome to the fourth post in our series on innovation “discovery skills”.  If you haven’t read the previous posts, catch up on them here:

As a kid, I loved doing those ‘connect the dot’ activities.  They were pretty simple to do, and there was no greater feeling than beginning to see an image emerge out of a page of seemingly unrelated dots.  This post focuses on a discovery skill that is much like ‘connecting the dots’.  Its the skill of “observing”.

There’s no real mystery to this skill; its just as simple as it sounds.  But that doesn’t mean effective observation is ‘easy’.  Leaders that have finely tuned their skills of observing have done so intentionally and over time.  They have learned to scrutinize common phenomena, particularly the behavior of potential customers, in order to generate breakthrough ideas. In observing others, they act like anthropologists and social scientists, combining qualitative and quantitative data to draw out insights from the mundane.

Innovations from Around the World

Two examples from The Innovator’s DNA: Intuit founder Scott Cook hit on the idea for Quicken financial software after two key observations. First he watched his wife’s frustration as she struggled to keep track of their finances. “Often the surprises that lead to new business ideas come from watching other people work and live their normal lives,” Cook explained. “You see something and ask, ‘Why do they do that? That doesn’t make sense.’” Then a buddy got him a sneak peek at the Apple Lisa before it launched. Immediately after leaving Apple headquarters, Cook drove to the nearest restaurant to write down everything he had noticed about the Lisa. His observations prompted insights such as building the graphical user interface to look just like its real-world counterpart (a checkbook, for example), making it easy for people to use it. So Cook set about solving his wife’s problem and grabbed 50% of the market for financial software in the first year.

Ratan Tata got the inspiration that led to the world’s cheapest car by observing the plight of a family of four packed onto a single motorized scooter. After years of product development, Tata Group launched in 2009 the $2,500 Nano using a modular production method that may disrupt the entire automobile distribution system in India. Observers try all sorts of techniques to see the world in a different light. Akio Toyoda regularly practices Toyota’s philosophy of genchi genbutsu—“going to the spot and seeing for yourself.” Frequent direct observation is baked into the Toyota culture.

Observing Is Innovation By Design

woman looking through microscope

Innovators carefully, intentionally, and consistently look out for small behavioral details—in the activities of customers, suppliers, and other companies—in order to gain insights about new ways of doing things.  This is very similar to design thinking, an approach to solving challenges that drives prestigious institutions, such as the Stanford “”, and world-renown firms such as IDEO.  Design thinkers observe what people do and how they interact with their environment to gain clues about what they think and feel. Some of the most powerful insights come from noticing a disconnect between what someone says and what he does. Others come from witnessing a work-around someone has created which may be very surprising, but may never come up in conversation.  The key is engaging with and observing people directly.  Not only do you observe what they do, you learn a tremendous amount about the way they think and the values they hold, which can lead to even greater insight.

But what makes careful observation ‘work’?  Its what happens after a moment of insight that is critical.  In general, innovative leaders do three things to move from insight to innovation:

  1. Capture it. Innovators have systems in place to capture observations, insights, and implementation ideas in the moment.  They don’t want until inspiration has passed, they leverage often very simple tools to keep what they’ve observed in the forefront of their minds.  This habit keeps the door open for the first discovery skill – association.
  2. Collaborate on it. Innovation doesn’t happen alone.  Just look at the greatest ideas in history and you’ll see that the minds that birthed them regularly engaged in the sharing of ideas with others.  Often it is the combination of two really good ideas that produces the breakthrough idea, one that multiplies the impact of your efforts far beyond what a single idea could have delivered.
  3. Experiment with it. Understanding that our first ideas are rarely our best, innovative leaders invest time experimenting, which is the discovery skill we’ll cover in our next post.

HUB: Boosting Your Powers of Observation

Observation plays a critical role in the development of breakthrough Kingdom ideas as well.  The more church leaders are able to engage with and observe those they are trying to serve and reach, understanding they way they think and the values they hold, and the more they are able to investigate ideas and new models from other leaders and industries, the more adept they will become at drawing key insights and developing effective ideas.  It just takes the right environments and opportunities.  It takes experience.

That’s where HUB comes in.

Leadership Network’s HUB is designed to help leaders develop and utilize the discovery skill of observation.  By interacting with a variety of innovative practitioners and expert thinkers across multiple topics and domains, teams will have many opportunities to engage with and observe ideas and models that can help them ‘connect the dots’ to their preferred future.  If you’re looking to sharpen your focus, clarify your thinking, and accelerate Kingdom impact, HUB is for you.  Click the image below to learn more.


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