Innovative Design & Creative Process with Hussain Almossawi, Author of the Innovator's Handbook

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By Brian Ardinger, Founder of Inside Outside Innovation podcast, and The Inside Outside Innovation Summit. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.

On this week's episode of Inside Outside Innovation, we sit down with Hussain Almossawi, author of the Innovator's Handbook. Hussain and I talk about the common misconceptions about innovation and how some of the best brands in the world approach design and the creative process let's get started.

Inside Outside Innovation is the podcast to help new innovators navigate what's next each week. We'll give you a front row seat into what it takes to learn, grow, and thrive in today's world of accelerating change and uncertainty. Join us as we explore, engage and experiment with the best and the brightest innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneering businesses. It's time to get started.

Interview Transcript with Hussain Almossawi, Author of the Innovator's Handbook

Brian Ardinger: Welcome to another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. I'm your host, Brian Ardinger. And as always, we have another amazing guest. Today, we have Hussain Almossawi. He is the author of a new book called The Innovator's Handbook: A Short Guide to Unleashing your Creative mindset. Welcome Hussain.

Hussain Almossawi: Thank you. Pleasure to be here. Thanks for having me.

Brian Ardinger: You are an award-winning designer, creative director, consultant. You work with companies like Nike and Apple and Google and, and many other well-known brands. I think I'd love to start the conversation with are these companies that you've worked with, that we know as creative and innovative as we think they are. Or do they struggle with innovation, like the rest of us?

Hussain Almossawi: Innovation is a process. And it's all about the mindset. What I really saw in these companies was we do see this big and huge brands with maybe like thousands of employees that work for them. The reality is that it's all made up of small teams. And these small teams are made up of five or six people.

And that's where like innovation happens at the core of those companies. What I really saw in these companies was failure after failure, after failure. Trying to reach to a vision that was set. And then throughout that process and throughout that journey being flexible and going from point A to B to C. And having that flexibility to move forward and push things forward. And that's really where innovation happens.

Brian Ardinger: It's pretty interesting. And we'll maybe dig into some of the examples and that, from what you've seen, that works and that. But you've got a new book out. Same time as my book, it's called the Innovator's Handbook. I love the design of it. It's a square book. Which is kind of unique to the marketplace and that. So, you spent a lot of time and care in the design and creativity of the book. So, I really appreciate that. But I wanted to dig into the content. Talk us through why somebody should pick up a book on innovation when there's so many out there. What makes this one different?

Hussain Almossawi: Sure. So, so for me as a designer and like growing up as an aspiring designer, I always looked at innovation as just like everybody else as something that really wows you. And is something that's amazing.

And you want to take parts in it and you want to innovate and become an innovator. But at the same time, you kind of feel lost and don't know how to do it. So, it just feels very overwhelming, especially when you're first starting out. Throughout my career, working with these different companies, working with amazing teams and brilliant minds.

What I wanted to do was to kind of break it down into simple insights that help shift your mindset when you're innovating. And innovation isn't supposed to be complex or difficult or hard. There are small things that you can do or understand that will allow you to, to think outside the box. For example, I'm speaking about myself, from my perspective. When I was designing and trying to innovate growing up, I always wanted to reinvent the wheel.

I always wanted to do things very different, but that's not the case with innovation. With innovation, you can take things that already exist, see how you can evolve them. Take two different products that exist in the market. See how you can bring them together. There's always room for improvement. So this idea and concept of doing something that is groundbreaking and never done before, that's not really true with innovation. But it seems that way, especially for young designers.

I mean, my book is geared towards young designers and aspiring designers, fresh out of college. And I want to share those perspectives and things that I saw that I wish I knew like 15 years ago. So that's like one thing. Do you evolve a product? Do you act or do you react. Do I come up with a groundbreaking product or do I create something that I'm building on something that's out there? That's like one point.

Brian Ardinger: I think that's one of the, the most important points that when I talk to folks, when it comes to innovation is getting a clear definition of what innovation means. I think a lot of us immediately jump to, I've got to come up with the, the new flying car kind of concept. When you're saying that innovation starts a lot of times at just incremental improvements and optimizing and looking at things slightly differently.

And I, I think that's such a great way to approach innovation because it does open it up to anybody who has opportunity to make those types of changes. You don't have to be, you know, the Steve Jobs or the Elon Musk of the world to actually innovate.

Hussain Almossawi: Absolutely. I mean, even like with successful brands, like Apple and automotive companies and all those, if you look at the products that they've done the past 10, 20 years, it's always incremental changes and it's always improving one thing after the other.

And I saw that a lot, like being in the footwear industry, with the different brands. It was year after year, we had the same story. Like for example, it was a shoe about lightweight. In 2020, what does lightweight look like? 2021, it looks a bit different because the technology is different. We failed a bit. We've learned a bit from the past, from the things we did in 2020

So now 2021, we have a better shoe. 2022 is a better shoe and so on. So, there's always room for improvement and technology's always growing. There are new materials. There's new process. Collaboration. The idea of collaboration is huge in innovation. You meet new people, you get different perspectives, you learn new stuff. And you bring all those back into the process and into the design of the product.

One interesting thing that we did like in the footwear industry, and it's done in different industries. For example, in footwear, let's say we were talking about a good shoe. What we would do is like, look at the, how are seat belts made? Look at the automotive industry. Look at the aerospace industry. Then look at things that really have nothing to do with footwear, but bring those ideas back into footwear and build something out of it. And that really leads to us asking better questions, understanding the process better, and coming up with innovative and groundbreaking ideas.

Brian Ardinger: That's an interesting topic because I think a lot of times, we do get stuck in our own bubble, whether it's our own industry or own competitors. And we're constantly looking at those folks to find inspiration when you're saying a lot of times that core inspiration can come from outside. From different places that you wouldn't necessarily put two and two together. Can you talk a little bit about the biggest misconceptions that you've seen when it comes to innovation? What are some of the mistakes or barriers that hold people back from innovating?

Hussain Almossawi: I think the first one that we already discussed that feels overwhelming. The thing is that we see the end result. We don't really see the process of what happens behind closed doors and companies. And we're all wowed by the amazing final product. But in reality, it really started with a small idea and many times, if not all the times there is an idea, but like you want to get from point A to B. But you really land on point C and that's where innovation happens.

Right? So that flexibility it's huge. And that flexibility also has to do with learning to fail. And being open to failing. And the idea of failing actually is a really good idea because actually now, you know what not to do versus like getting stuck into the same trap again. And again. And it's just lessons like one after the other, where you can grow and improve and improve. So that idea, I think, of, of being overwhelmed and thinking that you can't innovate. I don't think it's really true.

Brian Ardinger: Let's talk a little bit about, you mentioned failure. And I think that's where a lot of people get hung up when it comes to innovating. They don't want to fail. But yet failure's an inherent process or part of the process of innovating. You know, are there things that you've seen in your work that can help people mitigate that self-talk of failures bad and be able to make mistakes. You know, positive mistakes to move forward?

Hussain Almossawi: Well, we see it all around us, not just in innovation. I mean, if you look at Thomas Edison's story, if you look at Einstein, if you look at all the great innovators. They failed hundreds and thousands of times, and it was always the willingness to try and get back up that allowed them to reach the end goal.

And we see that in sports as well. Like I'm really into sports and I work with different sports companies. If you look at Michael Jordan, if you look at LeBron James, you look at all these superstars, they failed over and over and over. They missed shot after shot, after shot. And that's really what built these superstars and these names that we know today.

I mean, it's all about understanding that failure. It's just bringing you one step closer to the end result and having that mindset. At least what I saw from the inside and also working with different students. That's really what always pushes to bring you closer to success. Let's say.

Brian Ardinger: Absolutely. So, you've been successful and had a lot of work working with creative teams and that. I'd love your insight and your perspective on how do you go about finding and hiring innovative talent.

Hussain Almossawi: So, talent is one thing. Like as a designer, how good of a designer are they? What are their skills like? What's their craft? Like what programs do they use? So that's, I mean, that's one part of it. The second part of it is really how diverse of a team I can build and put together. The more different mine is, the more diverse my team is. The more I have different perspectives that surround me. That really leads and pushes to, to a stronger team that outputs innovative ideas.

So, and when I'm talking about diversity, I'm talking about culture. I'm talking about religion. I'm talking about language. I'm talking about geographical location and there's lots of different things. And the bigger, my combination can be, the more interesting my results could be because they push me and allow me to think in a different way that I would never have thought by myself.

So, so that's one, that's a second part of it. And then positivity would definitely be a third one. One thing that I saw, I mean, especially when I started out interning at Nike, it was just this positive energy.

Again, it goes back to the team that you work with. But if I'm working with someone, collaborating with someone that shoots down every idea in a negative way, I don't think you're going to see success at the end of the tunnel. But having a positive vibe, even if somebody shoots down an idea, I mean, there's something called the power of and. I could hate your idea, but I could build your idea.

Yeah, and we could do this, and we could do that. Rather than let's not do this. Let's do that. So, I actually, I've seen both. I've seen the negative side of things in the industry and the positive sides and definitely the teams that were positive. That's where I saw the most innovation happen.

Brian Ardinger: Having the ability to ask the what if questions rather than, you know, the negative side of, well, that's never going to work or, or whatever, being able to at least push through that seems to be one of the traits that I've seen as well.

I guess the last kind of core topic I want to talk about is this idea of how do you rep a team that maybe wants to have a more of a creative spark and that? Are there particular things that you can do to get folks more engaged in innovation. Start thinking about it and spark their creative juices.

Hussain Almossawi: There were cool workshops that we did. And I also give, like, when I give talks and different creativity conferences, I do also like different kind of workshops for people in different industries. One really cool thing that we do is let's say we're designing a footwear. So, I'd go to Home Depot. Any DIY store. I'd buy random stuff, stuff that has nothing to do with footwear.

I'd go to the dollar store, buy random stuff and put them all on the table. And then I'd give the team a brief, a task. All right let's do a shoe that is super comfortable. Let's do a shoe that flies. Let's do a shoe that is this or that. And that really pushes your imagination to take these things that have nothing to do with a shoe or with each other, and then start to think outside the box.

Okay. What if, if I use these ping pong balls and use them as the cushion of the shoe because of the shape, because of the lightweight. It could do this or that. So, first of all, opening room for imagination. And then second of all there's no right or wrong. I think that's really important in innovation. At least in the process, there's no right or wrong. There are no stupid questions. Everything is possible.

And then as we like an idea, as we get excited about an idea, we can start to look at reality how things can be done. How things can be manufactured processed. And then bring it closer to reality and start to tweak it and adjust it and refine it. So, so that's definitely I'd say the best exercise I've seen working with different people and teams.

Brian Ardinger: That's a great little exercise. I'll put in my bag of tools as well. So, appreciate that. Last question I have is where do you go for inspiration? What are the, the resources or the things that you look at that keep you on top of this game?

Hussain Almossawi: One of the things that's actually mentioned in the book, it's being a curious sponge. So just being open to everything and accepting everything. And you know, when you see things around, you look at the colors, look at the texture. When you hear conversations, get interested in things that don't really interest you.

So just being a sponge and that's something that Tinker Hatfield at Nike told me. Just be a curious sponge. And that really allows you to soak things in. Then another thing is just being inspired by greatness. You know, by excellent around you. Whether it's through other artists, whether it's through sports, through books.

I love reading. And reading is the number one source of being inspired. You know, it’s just different kinds of information from different kinds of people. So that's another thing. And it all gets back to being a curious sponge. Whether I'm reading. Whether I'm looking at art. Whether I'm talking to people. Just being curious and interested at all times.

And as kids, we were always curious, asking questions. Asking lots of amazing questions. And we saw that with Leonard de DaVinci. He always asked lots of questions in his notebooks. Why is the sky blue? What does a Woodpecker’s tongue look like? But as we grow up, we kind of are taught to not ask any stupid questions and to just play it safe. And that really leads to, I'd say, taking a step back from innovation, which is unfortunate.

For More Information

Brian Ardinger: It's an amazing topic. I appreciate you coming on Inside Outside Innovation to share your insights and that. And if people are curious about where to find out more about your book and more about yourself, what's the best way to do that.

Hussain Almossawi: So, the Innovator's Handbook comes out September 6th. The best way is through Instagram, through my website, LinkedIn. Yeah. Just type my name in you'll find me.

Brian Ardinger: Excellent. Well, Husain, thanks again for coming on Inside Outside Innovation. Look forward to continuing the conversation and appreciate your time.

Hussain Almossawi: Thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Brian Ardinger: That's it for another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. If you want to learn more about our team, our content, our services, check out InsideOutside.io or follow us on Twitter @theIOpodcast or @Ardinger. Until next time, go out and innovate.

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