Inheriting Innovation

I have to admit it – I love learning from those legends of innovation. When I run into a problem, I think, “What would Leonardo do in this situation?”

We are so fortunate that we don’t have to make our own way – we have inherited a great wealth. Instead of stumbling around, trying to gather wisdom to our bosom, Da Vinci, Edison, Einstein and others hand wisdom to us. We learn from what they did. We inherit their innovation.

Be a poet

I’m sure than Thomas Edison would NEVER have called himself, poetic. And yet a poet he was.

Why? Because when he had a problem, he thought, “What does this remind me of?” Instead of looking at the problem, he would look at what it was similar to, in the same way a poet would not describe long red hair as long red hair, but as a hank of scarlet silk, shimmering as it unravelled.

For instance, when Edison was trying to figure out how to increase the flow of messages in the telegraph, he considered how to increase the flow of water in a pipe. By thinking about his problem that way, he was able to separate the flow of current and thus send simultaneous messages on the same telegraph wire.

Tip: When you come up with a problem, think about what the essence of the problem is, and then think of what other things could have the same basic problem. For example, when stumped for coming up with a new way to attract attention with a marketing campaign, you could look to the world of nature and see how birds attract mates, how animals communicate to one another, how flowers attract bees. This could help you come up with innovative solutions to your communication problem.

Be a thief

Thomas Edison had a problem with stealing – he was famous for taking someone else’s idea and then improving it or thinking of another way to apply it.

He said, “Make it a habit to keep on the lookout for novel and interesting ideas that others have used successfully. Your idea needs to be original only in its adaption to the problem you are working on.”

Tip: Talk your boss into subscribing to a whole range of different magazines – science digests, Reader’s Digest, etc. Bookmark some “wacky inventions” pages and periodically print them out and place them in the lunchroom. Read up on what’s happening in other companies.

Then ask yourself:

Someone used this idea one hundred years ago. How can we take it and update it, making it fit our company?

How can I apply this scientific principal to our marketing campaign? Or adapt this production process to our financial services campaign?

What improvements would make this idea more successful?

Make a game with other co-workers to spend lunchtime reading these magazines, then once a week have a contest to come up with the wildest adaptation of already used ideas. You’ll have fun. But best of all, after you’ve done this for a while, you’ll look at these wild ideas and start getting ideas of how to tame them and adapt them to your organization!

Throw a fit

Leonardo Da Vinci, when frustrated by a problem, would take a paint filled sponge and throw it at the wall. Then he would study the shape of the paint-splatter, finding different images in the random splotches. He would look at these images, searching for inspiration, connecting the image to the problem he was working on.

Tip: When stymied, look at the clouds and ask yourself, “What do I see?” Then ask yourself, “How does that shape apply to my problem?” Force yourself to connect the two.

Hop about

Thomas Edison had several tables, each with a project on it. He would work on one until he found himself lacking inspiration. Then he would move on to the next table. And on to the next. Suddenly he would receive inspiration about how the project he was working on connected with another. And he would rush back to the first table and work again, inspiration renewed.

Tip: When inspiration is lacking, move on to something else. Periodically, review your notes on the first project. And wait for inspiration to return. When determining a project timeline, make sure you slot this time in.

Dream a little dream

Albert Einstein used his imagination extensively to come up with new ideas. He would think in images, daydreaming and placing himself in the daydream so he could more fully understand the problem – from the problem’s perspective.

Tip: Ask yourself, “If I were a ___, what would I see? What would be important to me?”

Push the limits

Thomas Edison forced himself to be creative. He set himself goals for invention. He had to create a certain number of what he considered important inventions within a certain time. He also set goals for what he considered less important, or minor, inventions. Setting these goals motivated him and helped make him one of the most productive people of all time.

Tip: Goal setting works. Stretch yourself. Force yourself to come up with more ideas than what you think you can.

Painting a picture

Most of history’s legendary innovators drew pictures when solving a problem. They would draw a picture of the problem and then try and solve it pictorially. Doing this helped them see the problem with a different set of eyes.

Tip: Try drawing a picture of the problem you are trying to solve. Write down whatever comes into your mind, all the time drawing more images to go with those thoughts. Learn how to mindmap.

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