The Insight Behind Perspective Matters for Innovation

I learned about the importance of the source of insight behind a person’s perspective in my innovation job at Bayer MaterialScience. The breakthrough for introducing a new composite material to the mass transit industry came when we hired an industry expert. The industry expert had sold a competing product to this industry that had been displaced by the product we were trying to displace. Not only was his experience as a practitioner of what we were trying to do valuable, but having lost sales he had learned even more valuable lessons. As is often the case, we learn more from our failures than from our successes.

Before hiring the industry expert, we had purchased a market report on the mass transit industry. In a market report, the author is learning from practitioners. Therefore, the insights are limited to the types of questions that the studier of the practitioner is interested in pursuing. The market report was helpful for scoping out the size of the opportunity and the most likely targets for our new composite material. However, the market report could not answer the questions we had in order to formulate a strong value proposition for our new composite material. For these more specific questions, we turned to our industry expert, our practitioner, as described above. For the purposes of this post, I am calling the insight from the author of the market report ‘observer insight’ and the insight from the industry expert ‘practitioner insight. ‘Observer insight’ comes from someone who talks to or studies practitioners while ‘practitioner insight’ comes directly from the practitioner.

This post will first consider the difference between insight and perspective as pertains to innovation. Next the post will introduce each an observer and a practitioner perspective on innovation. Finally, the post compares and contrasts observer insight and practitioner insight on innovation.

I found three definitions for insight on-line as follows:

  • Google: ‘the capacity to gain an accurate and deep intuitive understanding of a person or thing’
  • Merriam-Webster: ‘the power or act of seeing into a situation, penetration’
  • The free dictionary: ‘the ability to discern the true nature of a situation, especially by intuition’

From these definitions, insight made me think of Robert Downy Junior’s portrayal of Sherlock Holmes in the movie by the same name. In the movie, Robert Downy Junior displays the ability to make obervations and take actions based on digging deep beneath the surface down to different layers of thinking. These definitions describe insight as understanding through intuition and depth of thinking. In fact, insight is a form of knowledge because it is a form of understanding. Janice Morse explains ( that insight comes from the ability to think conceptually and link seemingly unconnected events, representations, and ideas. Morse further explains that insight is crucial to understanding, building excellent inquiry for more in-depth understanding, and uncovering important interpretations and conclusions.

I also found three definitions for perspective on-line as follows:

  • Google: “a particular attitude toward or way of regarding something; a point of view”
  • Merriam-Webster: “a mental view or prospect”
  • The free dictionary: “a mental view or outlook”

Therefore, perspective is a way at looking at something. For example, your experiences, your values, your education, and your training all inform the way you look at something whether they are articulated or not. Perspective also informs your insights. So which comes first, insight or perspective? I have no idea but perspective and insight are not mutually exclusive: insight informs your persective and your perspective informs your insight. Both are ways of engaging, both cognitively and emotionally, with a topic, idea, concept, theory, approach, and so on. In addition, a change in perspective can lead to new thinking and new insight. Because innovation is about implementing a new idea to create value, then a different perspective can be very helpful in catalyzing innovation.

Interestingly, insight is missing from the elements of thought created by Richard Paul and Linda Elder ( in ‘Critical Thinking Concepts and Tools.’ Insight is the link between information and interpretation, two of the eight elements of thought. Insight also informs questions, concepts, purpose, assumptions, and consequences, five more of the eight elements of thought. The last element of thought is perspective. Janice Morse above also expressed dismay that there was not more value placed on insight as part of qualitative analysis in research. Here we go to help shine a light on insight in this post!

Elements of Thought Transparent

From ‘Critical Thinking Concepts’ by Richard Paul and Linda Elder


An example of observer insight on innovation can be seen in Rowan Gibson’s book The Four Lenses of Innovation. Gibson is also author of Innovation to the Core. In a video that advertises the book (, it is explained that the book is based on findings from studying hundreds of innovations. The book identifies four specific perspectives that inspired the innovators behind the innovations studied. The perspectives identified can be summarized as follows:

  • Overturning traditional assumptions or the ability to challenge conventional wisdom about how things are done.
  • Keen awareness of what is changing in the world or the ability to and harness trends with revolutionary or disruptive potential.
  • Alternative way of viewing skills and assets or the ability to re-purpose, recombine, and stretch them to create new value.
  • A deep understanding of unmet needs or the ability to sense and find breakthrough solutions to people’s problems and pain points.

An example of practitioner insight on innovation can be seen in Guy Kawasaki’s talk on the art of innovation ( Guy Kawasaki served as Chief Evanglist at Apple and started several companies, many of them successful. Not only is Apple recognized for its many successful innovations from the MacIntosh to the iPad and iPhone, but starting up a company is all about innovation. In this talk, Guy presented a top ten list for innovation which can be summarized as follows:

  • Innovation starts with the desire to make meaning rather than make money (if you make meaning then it follows that you will make money).
  • A second step in innovation is to make a 2- or 3-word mantra that explains why you should exist.
  • A third step in innovation is about perspective and jumping to the next curve.
  • A fourth step in innovation is pursuing the five qualities of great innovations which are depth, intelligence, completeness, empowerment, and elegance.
  • A fifth step in innovation is to not worry about perfection and be willing to learn from the mistakes
  •  A sixth step in innovation is to take your best shot at positioning and branding and then adjust based on how customers decide to use your product or service.
  • A seventh step in innovation is to accept that your product or service is not for everyone and not be afraid of polarizing people as great products and services often do.
  • An eighth step in innovation is to continuously improve your product.
  • A ninth step in innovation is to make and then communicate how your product is both unique and valuable relative alternatives.
  • A tenth step in innovation is perfecting your pitch to potential customers and investors.

In the name of full disclosure, I will first provide my reactions to each the observer insight and practitioner insight to innovation. With Gibson’s approach, I found the simplicity and elegance of the four lenses very appealing. I also saw ties between the four lenses and a book I recently finished reading called Intangible Capital by Mary Adams and Michael Oleksak. With Kawasaki, I appreciated his experience in the high-tech industry since I am a trained chemical engineer. In addition, I respected how Kawasaki can talk about both his failures and his successes and can value the learning from both. Finally, Kawasaki has experience I don’t have, practitioner experience, so I can learn from him.

Comparing Gibson’s four lenses of innovation to Kawasaki’s top ten list for innovation reveals several connections. First, Gibson speaks of leveraging resources by thinking in terms of what your company knows rather than in terms of what the company does. This innovation lens is an enabler to Kawasaki’s point that great innovations jump to the next curve. For this point, Kawasaki uses the ice industry as an example. He tracks the ice industry from chopping up blocks of ice from frozen lakes and ponds to the ice factory to the refrigerator. Kawasaki makes the point that those who viewed themselves by what they did die not make the jump to the next curve. Second, Gibson speaks of challenging conventional wisdom which also relates to Kawasaki’s point about jumping to the next curve. Back to the ice example, making ice in a factory versus each person having their own personal ice factory was a revolutionary concept at the time of ice factories. Third, Gisbon speaks to identifying and harnessing trends which also speaks to Kawasaki’s point about jumping to the next curve. Finally, Gibson speaks to a deep understanding of unmet needs which speaks to Kawasaki’s points about adjusting your positioning and branding based on how the customer uses your product or service and continuously improving your product to meet the needs of customers.

Contrasting Gibson’s four lenses of innovation to Kawasaki’s top ten list for innovation reveals several concepts missing from Gibson’s lenses of innovation. For example, Kawasaki speaks to the importance of passion to innovation in his points about making meaning, making a mantra, and being willing to polarize people as great products that people feel passionate about often do. Furthermore, Kawasaki speaks to the importance of selling your product or service on how it is both unique and valuable compared to alternatives. Finally, Kawasaki speaks to several ways to push boundaries with your innovation including the pursuit of the five qualities of great innovations and learning from mistakes that come from not worrying about perfection in launching your innovation.

From my viewpoint, the observer insight on innovation from Gibson is a subset of the practitioner insight on innovation from Kawasaki. The observer insight on innovation is also missing big concepts from the practitioner insight on innovation from Kawasaki that I think are critical to successful innovation. I can generalize and say that learning from the insights of practitioners will give you greater depth of insight to increase your chances of success in reducing the knowledge to practice then learning from observers of practitioners. However, this may only apply due to the nature of the topic. For example, the topic of innovation is today more art than science as Kawasaki’s talk title proclaims. I wonder about other examples that make practitioner insight more valuable than observer insight.

One thing that is certain is that insight informs perspective. Gibson’s perspective on innovation from his observer insight has similarities to but also differences from Kawasaki’s perspective on innovation from his practitioner insight. As I said in my last post (, changing perspective can lead to spectacular results because it is a way to broaden your thinking. If you have a great idea that you want to implement, then try determining the types of practitioners that would help you implement the idea. You might also try applying Guy Kawasaki’s top 10 list for innovation to help you clarify the types of practitioners you need.

If you would like to learn more about how changing perspectives can help trigger innovation for your project or organization, then contact Valerie Patrick at Fulcrum Connection LLC (412-742-9675 or Ask about the first-time client offer.