April 22, 2015

Podcast: Spotting Patterns Is a Key to Innovation

In an ordered field of white cubes, a red, skewed cube breaks the pattern

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In this episode of “What’s the Big Idea?” Keith Holyoak, a cognitive psychology professor at University of California at Los Angeles, discusses how nonprofits can foster innovation.

The ability to perceive patterns and relationships is “one of the hallmarks of human thinking,” Mr. Holyoak says. It has led to inventions such as Velcro, which an engineer created after noticing the tiny hooks that enabled burrs attach to fur and clothing.

Nonprofits can take advantage of this powerful line of reasoning by bringing together people who have different backgrounds to solve problems, he says.

“If you have somebody who’s not from the domain directly involved here, they may be carrying knowledge from another one that may be relevant if they can make the connection,” he says.

Allison Fine, a nonprofit leader, author, and expert on technology and communications, discusses research in other fields that apply to nonprofit work. Ms. Fine incorporates suggestions and questions from readers into her podcasts and invites you to e-mail her at Look for new installments once a month.