Be an Anthropologist: Explore to Innovate

By: Eliezer Silveira Filho

Three prisoners trapped in a cave from the moment of birth can only see a wall lit by a fire. On this wall are projected shadows of statues representing humans, animals and objects. The shadows are manipulated as daily scenes that are analyzed and judged by the prisoners. Now, imagine if one of them can break free to explore the external world. When you leave the cave and get in touch with the real world, you are enchanted with real beings and real everyday life. When you return and share with the others, you are called crazy. This famous myth told by Plato reinforces the need to explore reality in order to, in fact, know it.

The act of observing and exploring is one of the skills required to be an innovative person. A real challenge, innovation is a question of survival. According to Peter Diamandis, specialist on the subject and rector of Singularity University, "40 percent of Fortune 500 companies will no longer exist in the next 10 years." This transformation leads to new connections, new possibilities and—above all else—leads to changes in the shape of our industries.

Many possibilities lie ahead, generated by the combination of computing, software, connectivity and sensors. According to Moore’s law, computer processing capacity would double every 18 months. That rate of advancement has resulted in rapid leaps in developments, especially in the last two decades. And this pace should accelerate even more with quantum computing, allowing for the development of even more agile supercomputers with the ability to process highly complex problems.

When we think of innovation, we often see the image of those laboratories with inventors doing tests, often without knowing what will come. But there is a big difference between innovation and invention. Invention comes from the Latin inventio and means something that has been found, discovered. Innovation is the intersection of invention with need. Put fundamentally, an innovation must fulfill a need.

Innovation can be both incremental and disruptive, but it always has the clear goal to fulfill a need. The challenge is to know what the real need is, what is the "job to be done." It is important to understand this real goal, regardless of the technology applied. An incandescent light bulb company, for example, that sold a lamp that had to be changed every three months, must have been hit by LED lighting, which takes up to 10 years to be replaced. But if this same company understands that its purpose is to provide lighting, it must adapt to the technological changes and pressures to transform its business.

There are five key points to developing creative potential and, with this set of capabilities, lead transformation in this volatile, uncertainly, complex and ambiguous scenario.


Paul Romer, an economist at New York University, says that "true sustainable economic growth does not stem from new resources but from existing resources that are rearranged to make them more valuable." We live the remix era, where ideas and innovations come from the association of things, and the cognitive ability to build these associations is a gigantic source of creativity.

An example of this exercise is the Apple iPod. Putting hundreds of songs into a multimedia player created the challenge of quick navigation through the new (and vast) library. An engineer, seeing a classic rotating padlock, had the idea of ​​integrating the disk-like interaction to get through the library quickly. This relatively simple association created a new interface form that had years of success. Infinite associations can be created by connecting objects, people, and exploring various possibilities. As Steve Jobs said, "Creativity is connecting things ... Creative people connect experiences that they have had and synthesize new things.”


Returning to Plato’s myth, when we are conditioned to an environment, we often lose sight of the various possibilities and realities around. Therefore, a questioning mind helps the process of finding new ways. Plato reinforced this by saying that "asking the right questions is often more important than having the correct answers."


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