Observe and Innovation

3 Steps for Observation in Innovation

Observe and Innovation


Observation is a strategy used in the innovation process to understand the context of an issue from a human perspective. It encompasses interactions with people, spaces, and objects. The humanist perspective of observation differentiates it from more analytical means of problem solving. Through observation, you find that people act in unexpected or unarticulated ways.

Observation is more than mere watching; it is an intensely active process which begins with this idea - there is meaning, whether trivial or profound, in everything that we witness. Within that frame of mind, we can skillfully and methodically observe our surroundings with three distinct phases.


1. Document

Record what you see in a comprehensive manner. How you document depends on the situation. You can take notes, make sketches, audio recordings, video clips, and photographs. Anything that captures the rich detail of what you are observing will help you interpret and share what you find.

2. Synthesize & Interpret

Question and interpret what you see happening. Think and feel about what is happening; what do your observations tell you about larger themes? This is a time to use the technique of going back and forth from the specific to the general and back to the specific. Develop principles from the specific observation, then reapply them to other observations to see if they fit.

3. Share

Display your findings, artifacts, and notes. Observation is not a solitary activity, and the interpretation and synthesis is enriched through sharing. The meanings and themes that emerge through sharing are shaped by different perspectives and experiences. For large projects at the Center for Innovation, we set up a dedicated space - a project room - for this reason. As the project evolves, it becomes a living space where the work is visible.


There is a body of knowledge surrounding us that is vast, deep, and largely unarticulated. Tacit and latent knowledge is embodied in most of our daily routines, and some of our most basic tasks encompass complex tacit steps. Once you begin to adopt the attitude that every behavior reveals something about its context, you begin to find opportunities everywhere.



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