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Whatever Triggers Our Attention Go For It[Anouk] Wipprecht finds that her keys to success are curiosity, being willing to work across disciplines, and having a clear mission. “Whatever triggers your attention, go for it,” she says. “A lot of engineers ask me,” ‘How do I do design?’ I say, just go out and make stuff. And a lot of designers ask me, ‘How do I do technology?’ Well, just buy an Arduino and play with it.  Experiment. Explore. But if you don’t have a mission in mind, it’s hard to succeed.” Dynamic Dresses Merge High Fashion And Technology, IEEE Spectrum, Feb 2016.

I loved being a 2nd lieutenant in the Air Force. Nobody had any real expectations of us and just hoped that with time the lieutenants would figure out how to lead or would just get out of the service. What was great was that I was free to do almost anything, go anywhere, stick my nose in anything. Everyone was very understanding because after all I was a “butter bar” and had little real experience. Me, I actually had significantly more experience than the average lieutenant but I still looked as if I were 15 years old. With this “advantage” I could chase down interesting things that needed doing and actually get them done.

See for example The Leap From Mediocrity To The Exceptional Is Shorter Than We Think

This chasing things that looked interesting drove most of my career. I recall a classified story in the National Security Agency’s internal journal “Cryptolog” of an opportunity that was missed because they had noticed an electronic signal anomaly but decided they didn’t have the time to pursue it. Years later, it appeared, the anomaly became something significant and if it had been pursued earlier it would not have been the problem that it apparently became to them. They never explained what the anomaly was, that was apparently above the publication’s security clearance, but it was important enough to warrant an article to say we needed to chase more of the interesting things as we came across them.

For more see What I Learned By Hacking At The National Security Agency

But chasing what is interesting is not about random serendipity day in and day out. Instead, it should be interesting in the context of the job we are doing, our current project. Keeping our eye on what we are trying to achieve is essential when going creatively off track to find a better way of doing things. This is important to remind our team when motivating them to look for ways to improve. Of course, sometimes we come across something completely new and interesting but that is just another project.

What are you doing to encourage innovation in your projects?

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