Investigate to Innovate


Its value is unquestioned, yet its place in our business lives is often pushed to the bottom of our to-do list.  It’s easy to de-prioritize research, since many of us consider it a “fishing expedition” with no defined end date or deliverables. How do we defend taking time for research when our to-do lists overflow, our workloads overwhelm, and meeting requests overpower our waking hours? The simple answer is that research and investigation (pain-points, ideas, process enhancements, etc) are critical to innovation. When we expand our focus through our research and ask “what if …” questions, that’s when we start to unlock creativity and begin to be innovative.

The most important place to start is by shifting our mindset; in later blog posts, we’ll talk about concrete strategies anyone can use to craft action plans, but for now, let’s focus on getting inspired, fired-up, and ready to dive into research and investigation, guilt-free.

It’s not a waste of time.

Let’s start here.  In our busy business world, where time is money, and customers and quality deliverables are ‘king’, spending time on something as amorphous as research may make us feel guilty, especially if we’re having fun doing it. After all, if we’re just plugging terms, questions, and keywords into a search engine with nothing to show for it initially but random notes, it may look like a waste of time – it’s anything but that. Albert Einstein once said “Play is the highest form of research,” which underscores the next point.

Make it fun.

Of course there’s a serious side to research, but if we consider it drudgery, it’s unlikely that we’ll come up with anything that’ll excite us or anyone else. We may even have to consciously give ourselves permission to have a good time and be creative – who can be innovative without being creative? Answer: no one! We should even surround ourselves with creativity enhancers: colored pencils, sketch pads, LEGO blocks, paints, an Etch A Sketch, or whatever brings out that elusive “inner child”. One of my favorite tricks is to open a small container of Play-Doh (yes, I have one on my desk) and inhale a few times before I start research; that scent takes me right back to childhood and the sense of the world being open to anything and everything.

Invite others to join in the fun.

Let’s face it – there’s a reason why there are few games for only one person, and even the most interesting among us finds that talking to oneself leads to short, unfulfilling conversations. As Michael Dell stated, “Collaboration equals innovation.” When we ask colleagues to share research, we can then brainstorm with them. In such a session, we can springboard from one idea to another, tweaking, refining, questioning, and learning.  Avoid the temptation to impose rules or boundaries of any sort; starting a creativity-based brainstorming session by immediately setting parameters sends confusing, mixed messages that hinder a free and lively exchange of ideas.

Now that we’ve discussed how important it is to approach research with an open mindset, next time we’ll explore strategies for approaching and scheduling time for research so that it’s a highly anticipated activity, not a dreaded chore.


Beth Thomerson is a senior leader in Innovatia’s technical documentation practice, working in New Hampshire. A certified Scrum Master, she has managed writing teams since 2000, with a focus on supporting writers in Agile development environments. Beth and her teams work with clients to plan and implement content strategies that result in quality deliverables that exceed expectations. She supports innovation through personal and team research on emerging technologies, information architecture, design, single-sourcing, and just-in-time content.


  1. Marc Hollett

    I really enjoyed your blog post, Beth, and your points make sense to me. I like the link you draw between creativity, play, and productivity. I like your suggestions to get inspired and to remove the guilt and allow yourself to explore an idea.

    I often feel that when I’m stuck on a task and then shift gears to something else (such as delving into research about an area I’m interested in or bouncing ideas off a colleague), I start to see connections and solutions that much clearer.

    The Einstein quote is apt, too; he was also a proponent of stepping away from tasks to go on a walk and “have a think.” 🙂

    Great job!

  2. Allison Parsons

    Hi Beth,

    I can identify with your comment that doing research can often make you feel guilty, even though you know that thorough research is fundamental to producing high quality content.
    Developing informative and accurate training materials takes time, and the results of research aren’t immediately evident.
    However, the hours spent researching a topic are worth it when you consider the value of providing customers with excellent course curriculum.
    Happy researching!


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