Innovation is about mind set and lifestyle

Robert Evans Wilson, Jr

Being an innovator means having an open mind to new experiences. A few years ago a friend of mine returned from visiting her family in Greece. Knowing that I loved to try new wines, she brought me a bottle that she said was her parents’ favorite. She told me it was called “retsina.”

It was a white wine, and I was anxious to try it. So after letting it chill, I opened it and gave it a sniff. It had a pleasant aroma of crushed pine needles. I then poured small amount in a glass, swirled it, sniffed again, and took a generous quaff. My taste buds reacted violently. It was horrible. I rushed to the sink and spit it out.

The UnComfort Zone

My first thought was the wine had gone bad. But as I thought more about it, I realized it did not taste like vinegar which would indicate that it had spoiled. Instead it tasted like paint remover.

The label was in Greek, so I couldn’t read it. I called a friend who is a wine expert and said, “I’ve been given a bottle of retsina wine from Greece.” He immediately replied, “Tastes like turpentine, doesn’t it?”

“Yes,” I said, “has it gone bad?” He laughed, “No, it’s supposed to taste that way; it’s flavored with pine pitch.”

My next inclination was to dump the whole thing down the kitchen sink, but I hesitated. I recalled my friend saying that it was her parents’ favorite. That meant it couldn’t be all bad. I then remembered how often I tell people that in order to think like an innovator, you have to be open minded to new things.

Thinking that I should practice what I preach; I decided to give the wine another shot. And, that is exactly what I did. I drank it one shot at time. Every few days, I would drink a very small glass. That bottle lasted nearly a month. By the time I reached the end of the bottle, it no longer tasted repulsive – it was merely unique. Now whenever I eat in a Greek restaurant, I’ll order a glass of retsina wine. I’ve got to say, it tastes much better with food.

Thinking like an innovator means exposing yourself to unusual things, new experiences, and different points of view. It’s a lifestyle that sets the stage for creative thinking. New concepts generally come from synthesizing two or more existing ideas. The more diverse your knowledge, the more concepts you have to combine into something new.

The Greek idea of adding pine resin to wine, according to my friend the wine expert, was the result of some creative thinking under duress. When the Romans invaded Greece in 146 BC, they looted all the valuables including wine. Prior to the invention of oak wine barrels, the Greeks would store and preserve their wine in crockery sealed with pine pitch which inevitably flavored it. At the time of the invasion, most Greeks had upgraded to using barrels, although some still stored it the old-fashioned way. No surprise to me, the Romans didn’t care for the wine sealed with pine resin, so they didn’t take it. In order to keep the Romans from plundering any more wine, the Greeks started adding it to all their wines. Over the years the Greeks came to love the unique flavor of retsina wine, so they have continued the practice of adding pine resin to some of their wines into modern times.

When you experience new things, you generate new information and data that you store in your brain. Each new experience literally opens new neural pathways – electrical connections – between the brain cells. In order to think creatively, you need a variety of knowledge to draw from.

The more comfortable you become with exposure to new things, the more unique combinations will automatically occur to you as you go through life. Seeing new ways of doing things is a mind set you’ll develop as you live the innovator’s lifestyle.

Try something new today, perhaps a glass of turpentine wine … oops! I mean retsina.

Robert Evans Wilson, Jr. is an author, humorist-speaker and innovation consultant. He works with companies that want to be more competitive and with people who want to think like innovators. Robert is the author of the inspirational book: Wisdom in the Weirdest Places. He is also the author of The Annoying Ghost Kid a humourous children’s book about dealing with a bully. For more information on Robert, please visit