What role does KNOWLEDGE play in the innovation process?

Teresa Amabile suggest that to be innovative you require two things:

* Domain relevant skills: do you have knowledge, technical skills and talent to produce germane solutions?
* Creativity-relevant skills: do you have the cognitive skills and personality traits associated with creative performance?

One may have the creative traits and even be so naive as to claim, “I’m just a creative person!”.  But you cannot be creative in a field about which you know nothing.  Creative problem solving cannot be ‘knowledge-free’.  You need to know enough to play in the domain.  That relationship looks like this:

SweetSpotExpertise1
The more I know, the more I can apply principles, bend rules and innovate in my chosen domain.

However, there is a danger in assuming that this correlation continues on indefinitely.  B.S. Stein identified negative impacts of knowledge that included ‘functional fixedness’.  Knowledge can impede our ability to see a fresh solution because we have the expertise and experience to do it ‘right’.  Anyone who has been frustrated working with an expert who ‘knows’ all the answers has experienced this phenomenon.

There is a diminishing return with expertise that might look like this:

SweetSpotExpertise2

If your domain expertise leads you to believe that you KNOW all the answers you may just be falling off your sweet spot as a far as innovation is concerned.