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Big Ideas

Be Solutionary, Not Revolutionary

Too often, we look for answers in the "big ideas." Yet the greatest innovations frequently spring from a series of small, incremental solutions.

When we sit down with a blank canvas or clean sheet of paper, we have the tendency to think big. We ask ourselves, “What can I think of that is new, surprising, transformational?”

However, some of the greatest advancements across industries were not huge, singular achievements but rather incremental improvements. Even bold ideas such as online music stores, departures in architecture, and new genres of music were the result of new ideas refined over time. The iPod was not the first MP3 player. Google was not the first search engine. And the list goes on…

While logic should encourage us to improve what is around us, we still tend to think of innovation as creating something entirely new. Creative minds have the tendency to lose interest after the first implementation of a new idea. Marginal improvements are, frankly, less interesting for the cutting-edge creative. Nonetheless, incremental improvements often make up the difference between success and failure.

Creative minds have the tendency to lose interest after the first implementation of a new idea.
Especially productive creative teams are able to find excitement in solving problems both big and small, and in varying stages. It’s these accrued solutions that make up the distance between a new idea being created, and actually being adopted.

Leaders that focus on incremental progress – being “solutionary” rather than revolutionary – are the ones that truly push ideas to full fruition.  Such behavior takes a tremendous amount of discipline. But with conviction and clearly defined goals, creative energy can be channeled to refine a good idea enough to make a great impact.

The next time you’re in “dreamer mode,” trying to conjure up something brilliant, challenge yourself to search for the little tweak that can make a big difference.

More Posts by Scott Belsky

Scott Belsky is the Chief Product Officer at Adobe and is the co-founder of 99U and Behance. He has been called one of the “100 Most Creative People in Business” by Fast Company, and is the author of The Messy Middle and the bestselling book, Making Ideas Happen.

Comments (11)
  • Ricky Patrick

    Great article! I appreciate how you bring balance to the “idea-addicts” in all of us. I enjoyed your lab at Catalyst, Scott! Best of luck.

  • kym Burrows

    Yes I like this. Start by being solutionary – as you move through the process there is plenty of opportunity to spike your ideas with a bold and innovative edge. : )

  • Tiago

    Great post. Keep the good word.

  • Stuart Wallace

    This, like so many of the postings on 99% is great food for thought – really making me think about my work, my life even. What a fantastic resource, keep up the good work!

  • Nitin Garg

    Quite True. I have experienced this.

    Every Design project starts with problem finding, then concept development & getting in the dreamer mode. But to make the project much more practical,feasible and “Solutionary” there should be a parallel process going on envisioning the final outcome.

    And at the end, if your solution is efficient & publicized well then of the others, it will automatically become a revolution.

  • div

    truly inspirational

  • Susan Watts

    Very good point. Evolution is a process.

  • John

    Here’s a quote along these lines from Twyla Tharp: “Honey, itâ??s all been done before. Nothingâ??s really original. Not Homer or Shakespeare and certainly not you. Get over yourself.”

  • Raul Sim

    I want to be both solutionary and revolutionary!

  • Gaurav Mishra

    HOLY holy! Discipline.

  • Gaurav Mishra

    That’s great! But have you lad down the plans for the same, to win the fort ?

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