Innovation and butterfly moments: evolution, not revolution

Last week I attended an LSG webinar given by James Cory-Wright from Brightwave on continuous design innovation. James set out 10 ways to improve the learner experience in e-learning, which I’ll recap in another post, but what really tickled me was the idea of ‘butterfly moments’.

Everyone has a slightly different understanding of what innovation is. For some people it’s about technology, for others it’s about design, for others it’s a combination of both and for yet others it’s about something different altogether.

But for many people, I think, it can be a slightly daunting prospect. It’s a bit like creativity – if you’re specifically charged with being creative, it’s just a matter of time until writer’s block (or the relevant equivalent in your line of work) sets in. Likewise, if you’re specifically charged with being innovative, it can suddenly seem that everything you come up with has been done before.

But innovation doesn’t have to be big bang stuff. As James explained, sometimes it’s the littlest things that have the biggest impact – just like the flutter of a butterfly’s wings on one side of the world can supposedly cause meteorological havoc on the other, hence James’ lovely little term: butterfly moments. Butterfly moments are the small tweaks and modest ideas that have a positive impact on the user experience.

This means that innovation isn’t always about coming up with something brand-new and ground-breaking. It also means that you shouldn’t be at all afraid of building on something that has been done before. For example:

  • I remember a lecturer telling us about a paper she wrote and a subsequent review which declared that her paper had inserted ‘a sliver of originality’ into the area of study. She was disappointed, until she realised that actually that’s all any (well, most) of us can do, and that even a mere sliver of originality is valuable in moving things forward.
  • The original iPod was undoubtedly one of those big bang innovations. But some of the features that have made the biggest difference to how we listen to music have been relatively small tweaks and updates along the way – like the shuffle feature.
  • When I attend a conference or webinar or read a blog, I don’t expect revolutionary ideas every time. Instead, I look forward to a slightly new take on an old idea, or indeed the same idea just put a different way. Sometimes this is all that’s needed to help things click into place and spark a little creativity in my own mind.

When you look at it this way, innovation suddenly becomes much less intimidating and much more achievable, doesn’t it? Not just for us, but also for our users. Without the strong ‘pull’ factor of many products and services we use through choice in our personal lives, turning the whole model of e-learning on its head is likely to daunt and intimidate users. On the other hand, small and subtle modifications mean that users benefit from continuous innovation and improvement but are brought painlessly along on that incremental journey.

Yes, some of us probably are born innovators, able to revolutionise technology or learning or whatever it might be. But not all of us can be revolutionaries, and nor should we be. Evolution – incremental innovation – is every bit as important.

Image: Salvatore Vuono /

4 thoughts on “Innovation and butterfly moments: evolution, not revolution

  1. Mikecollins007

    Enjoyed the post Stephanie! I always liked the phrase “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got”. I’m always looking for inspiration and that spark whether its a conversation, presentation, webinar, story, new situation or being out of my comfort zone. Anything that stimulates and makes you think differently is key to being innovative or creative or just trying something new that you’ve not done before. I think the word innovation means different things to different people and for me as long as I’m striving to improve and challenge current practices then I might not be inventing the telephone but I won’t get what I’ve always got 🙂

    1. Stephanie Dedhar Post author

      Hi Mike – I love that phrase too and think it’s a good philosophy, one that supports the idea of incremental innovation. Thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment. And good luck tonight at the TJ awards!

  2. Pingback: 10 ways to improve learner experience: webinar summary | Good To Great

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