How to Innovate, Part 3: Relate

June 20, 2023

In the first two parts of this series, you learned how to Observe the world around you and Distill your observations into patterns. In these first two steps of the Wheel of Innovation, your work was purely theoretical. You learned how to heighten your powers of observation and then look for themes. With our third step—Relate—you’ll move from theory to reality. The Relate step is how you take Observe and Distill and transition them into the real world.

Relating is the process of seeing opportunities to tell a bigger story.

When you relate bigger ideas and experiences to your work, you’re looking at your organization from the outside in. Connecting the dots in this way means your harebrained ideas look less crazy and more credible. You’ve taken inspiration from something else that’s already working and associated that with your own efforts.

Relating is an important step in the Wheel of Innovation, and one that can feel easy to rush through.

I’ll throw you a huge word of warning here: You must slow down and work through the Relate step rather than hopping right to Generate and slinging out ideas. If you don’t, you’ll end up in the copycat trap and miss the entire power of the Wheel of Innovation.

Without understanding what about an idea or experience relates to your work, you have a high potential to copy and paste, which is always a disaster.

You’ll try to push the idea forward, it’ll fail miserably, and then you’ll believe creativity doesn’t work and innovation’s a drag. It’s too hard. It’s for other people. It’s something that only works in “cool” companies.

I understand your temptation, believe me, I do. I fell into this trap myself before I discovered its magic and how the most prolific innovators use it. I’ve watched people in my workshops gloss over it as a make-work step.

To be honest, this is the hardest step of the whole process, because you’re making that transition from theory into reality. This is how you bridge the gap and bring credibility to outside inspiration, so your final ideas don’t come across as half-baked.

You’ll only see the importance of the Relate step in hindsight, after you’ve worked through it the first time. But once you see the magic, you’ll be hooked.

Conducting a Brand Transplant

I describe the Relate step as conducting a Brand Transplant.

A Brand Transplant is when you take the essence behind a great idea, experience, or brand that you see,
and you transplant that into your own work.

Uber successful realtor Ben Bacal transplanted the essence of a Hollywood movie experience into his work. That’s how he realized that what made major motion pictures successful wasn’t A-list actors and big budgets but rather being able to tell a story, create buzz, and build a following. It’s that essence that he transplanted into his own work.

Your mind has the ability to transfer the principles that are inherent in one thing to try to solve problems in another area. Creativity and innovation are about connecting the dots, but those dots have to have meaning. And, you need to be able to relate what you’re experiencing in your everyday life to a bigger problem that you’re dealing with. That’s the beauty of being an innovator.

How to Relate: Four Steps

The Relate process includes four steps:

  1. Compare. Examine broader themes that you came up with in the Distill step. What similarities do you see? What about the differences? Go beyond the obvious, and don’t be afraid to be silly with what you discover.
  2. Associate. Determine which themes you notice have things in common with your brand. Be careful, though—it’s not about coming up with ideas yet. We’re still just connecting the dots and slowing down the idea-generation process. As you look for associations, you are looking at them between the patterns you identified in the Distill step and how any of them may relate to your brand.
  3. Prioritize. If you’ve done your due diligence in coming up with more than 200 observations and 20 different patterns, then it’s time to prioritize them. Not everything can be done at once, nor should it. As you relate outside inspiration into your work, you’ll need to rank which things matter the most and have the greatest meaning to your current situation.
  4. Attach. Take the strongest correlations and use those to look at your brand with a new perspective. This seems like a little thing, but it’s a subtle nuance that will be the spark for a massive amount of ideas in the Generate step.

You may be able to see relationships right away with some things, and others won’t make any sense at all. You might find that you look at a couple of the categories you distilled, and together they spark something that relates to your situation. Again, you’re not looking for any rhyme or reason with how things connect or what connects. There’s no right or wrong. You’re simply using your work from the Distill step as a way to organize what you observe and get it ready to relate it to your world.

While you may struggle with the Relate step your first few times through, as you continue to practice it, you will become fluent and find yourself relating things from even the most unrelated situations in which you find yourself. Before, you didn’t have context for how any of this made sense, but now you should be seeing the start of connections. Now that you’ve done all this work, you’ll move into the Generate step, where you’ll roll up your sleeves, and get to some really fun work.

Photo credit: Canva

About Carla

Carla Johnson Innovation Creativity Speaker Author

Carla Johnson helps leaders who are often paralyzed by traditional thinking. They suffer from slow growth, an eroding competitive advantage, low employee engagement, and depleted investor confidence. Their teams lack purpose and progress and constantly battle a resistance to change and new ideas.

As the world’s leading innovation architect, Carla’s spent 20 years helping leaders shatter limits and discover undiscovered possibilities. Through years of research, she’s developed a simple, scalable 5-step process that teaches people how to consistently produce inspired ideas that lead to uncommon outcomes.

Carla Johnson Innovation Creativity Speaker Author