Innovation through observation

With an eye for brushing up on pertinent literature, I am trying to reread some key books from my small library. Some like George Lakoff’s books are very valuable but so academic I wonder if I will ever get through them. Others from Donald Norman and Tom Kelly are full of ready to use practical tidbits that allow me to at least start talking about them in my practice. I’m going to try to share some of these tidbits (writing aids in memory and I need all the help I can get).
I have Tom Kelley’s latest book, The Ten Faces of Innovation, on order but his book that I do have, The Art of Innovation, is full all kinds of great ideas which have proven relevant to me in the past and now.
I do like to watch people. If I had a wish it would be to be able to be involved in more projects that allowed me to observe the way people live, work, and play. So interesting and so many insights to be found.

It’s a general principle of humankind. Scientists, industrialists, anthropologists, artists, and writers have understood this for centuries, and many entrepreneurs understand it intuitively.
Once you start observing carefully, all kinds of insights and opportunities can open up.
Sometimes-if you are lucky-you can find inspiration for innovation by observing yourself. In many parts of your life, you go through steps so mechanically. so unconsciously, that this is not possible. When you are off the beaten path, however, you are open to discovery: when you travel, especially overseas; when you rent an unfamiliar car; when you try a new sport or experience a new activity. AT those times, you are more open to ask the childlike “Why?” and “Why not?” questions that lead to innovation. … take notes about your impressions, reactions, and questions, Especially the problems, the things that bug you.
New ideas come from being seeing, smelling, hearing-bing there.
Focused observation can be a powerful source of innovation. As you observe people in their natural settings, you should not only look for the nuances of human behavior but also strive to infer motivation and emotion. Good, insightful observation combines careful watching with occasional well-chosen “why?” questions to get at the underlying psychology of a persons interactions with products and services.

Some of my most inspiring moments came when our daughter Catriona started to explore the environment around her. In our house at the time most of the storage was via wire storage shelving with all the heavy pots and pans sitting at the bottom. Instead of discouraging her from touching or playing with them, we used to sit every night on the kitchen floor with pots and pans and other kitchen tools in an effort to make music. Sitting with her I was able to see the limitations placed upon her by her physical development , how she compensated, and was still participated.
In short these nightly playtimes/observations led to a continuing interest in tangible interfaces, a masters thesis, and a number of projects since.
Basic observational research can lead to all kinds of insights and inspiration.
From Chapter 3, The Art of Innovation: Lessons in Creativity from IDEO, America’s Leading Design Firm
Tim Brown’s Blog on Design Thinking
Overview: Ethnography, Observational Research, and Narrative Inquiry
Observational Field Research
Research Methods Knowledge Base
Let the walls do the talking
Human Centered Design ToolKit

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