Innovation - Innate or Acquired | HCLTech

Innovation - Innate or Acquired

Innovation - Innate or Acquired
April 27, 2022

Innovation is one of the highly spoken buzzwords these days. It is the backbone of any successful company. Every organization frequently emphasize the importance of it and expect everyone to innovate. However, what no one tells us is how to do it exactly. Neither it is taught in school, nor there is any training conducted that teach us how to innovate. Somehow, we are supposed to know about it and spit out ideas like a tennis ball machine.

This behavior got me thinking that perhaps innovation cannot be taught. Maybe it is an innate quality. You are either born with it or don’t have it. So, by asking everyone how to be innovative, are we pretty much barking at the moon?

It is important to realize that innovative ideas don’t always have to be the big ones with eureka moments. The small ones count too, and they could be anywhere. We must develop an eye for finding them.

Well, my first quest was to confirm just that, one way or the other. The question that I asked myself — Is there really a way to learn how to innovate?

Apparently, yes!

Design thinking

Design thinking process clearly fleshes out five steps that could be easily followed – like empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test, to arrive at innovative solutions.

Super easy! So, armed with this process, I was targeting to innovate every day, which apparently was too ambitious. Perhaps once in a month or two is reasonable, six months tops. Well, nothing happened, even after a year!

My next quest was to figure out what I was not doing when it came to innovation and design thinking steps, or maybe the ones I was doing the wrong way.

I explored these three steps of design thinking further.


In this phase, we are expected to empathize with the users by being in their shoes, by observing and interviewing them in their environment and understanding the problems they are facing. For example, while using a tool or an application.

More often, the problem would not be a defect, but instead, it is more of doing something the hard way. The workarounds that the user is already doing to adapt to the problem is typically a good start for ideas.

What I was doing

  • While observing the users, I filled the assumptions with my prior experience
  • I ignored the UN-necessary details
  • I confirmed what I believed
  • I focused on one thing that I thought was important
  • I was storing the lessons in my memory, or at least I was trying

Lessons learnt

  • Wipe out previous notions about the environment before observing the user so that we are not biased toward what we already know
  • Seek information carefully without asking the leading question so that we don’t drive the user conversation. Let them tell it as they see it
  • Listen actively and record everything the user has to say or do. Look for all the details, not just the necessary ones – all of us know that the green signal means GO (the necessary), but not everyone notices that it is at the bottom of the three (the unnecessary)
Innovation - Innate or Acquired


With a human-centered problem statement on hand, in this phase, we should be asking questions that can help us look for ideas by considering the wide range of solutions that could solve typical problems that the users are facing.

Thinking out of the box is the expression to remember.

What I was doing

  • I brainstormed with people within a specific domain only
  • Often, I didn’t ask the question that I am seeking answers to correctly. I was within the confines of my area of expertise
  • Quite frequently, I fixed on a solution and was working around just that, ignoring other possibilities
  • I was not giving enough thought to the ideas by sleeping on them

Lessons learnt

  • Frame the question such that a wide range of solutions across various domains could be listed
  • Always have more than one idea to work upon
  • Better solutions could be thought about easily when we clear our brains and start thinking fresh. So, sleep on it
  • Use alternate methods to produce ideas – like Worst Possible Idea method instead of just brainstorming

Worst possible idea:

When asked for ideas, people often hold back, fearing being mocked. To overcome that, this method asks people to give what could be the worst possible idea for the problem. Therefore, no one looks silly, and people loosen up.

By deconstructing the worst idea and analyzing why it really ticks,

we can get great insights for better ideas.


In this experimental phase, we should produce the scaled-down version of the ideas to finalize the best possible solution for the problem identified during the previous phases.

The produced prototypes are examined, improved, accepted, or rejected based on user feedback.

What I was doing

  • Because I was afraid of losing the time already spent on the prototype, I clung to that one solution and kept reworking it instead of checking the alternatives
  • While I accepted the feedback, I ignored the different factors that could have influenced it
  • I kept the prototype success bar very high

Lessons learnt

  • Have multiple ideas for the same problem and prototype them in parallel. This gives the customers more options, to compare, and with more options they generally give better feedback. This also helps us to compare the feedback across multiple ideas and arrive at an idea that is even better
  • Get feedback early on by sharing the product with customers more frequently, even if it is not perfect


Now I am positive that innovation is something anyone could learn by properly following the simple steps described by design thinking.

It is important to realize that innovative ideas don’t always have to be the big ones with eureka moments. The small ones count too, and they could be anywhere. We must develop an eye for finding them.


Is innovation something we should do for an hour or two?

Perhaps, it is just another activity at work?

Or, is it something we do here and there occasionally?

No, innovation, is a lifestyle!


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