3 Proven Strategies For Developing Innovative Thinking
How do people find new and innovative ideas?
This is a question American writer and professor Isaac Asimov spend years wrestling. In a 1959 essay, “On Creativity,” he concluded,
One way of investigating the problem is to consider the great ideas of the past and see just how they were generated.
Vulcanizing natural rubber, the first iPhone and an iteration of the whiteboard are examples of innovative ideas that offer three strategies you can use to develop more innovative thinking.
Seek Out Inspiration
Innovative ideas often come from happy accidents.
Consider the case of Charles Goodyear.
He experimented unsuccessfully with natural rubber for years throughout great personal hardship and often on the verge of bankruptcy.
In 1839, Goodyear tried to sell a sample of natural rubber in Woburn General Hardware Store in Massachusetts.
While showing his product to a skeptical audience, Goodyear accidentally threw a fistful of gum onto a hot potbellied stove.
The natural rubber sizzled and turned hard from the heat, and when Goodyear scraped the substance off the stove, he found the rubber charred like leather.
Most people would have seen this as an embarrassing disaster but not Goodyear. He realized heat held the key to treating natural rubber so that it’s more durable, a process known today as vulcanization.
An almost bankrupt Goodyear spent the following winter figuring out how much heat he had to apply to natural rubber to achieve vulcanization (a process used today to manufacture products like tires).
Eventually, Goodyear discovered applying steam to rubber under pressure for four to six hours provided the intended results. Goodyear denied his discovery of vulcanisation was a mere happy accident.
Instead, he insisted the hot stove incident held meaning only for someone “whose mind was prepared to draw an inference,” and who had “applied himself most perseveringly to the subject.”
Combine Similar Ideas
Often innovative thinking comes from combining popular ideas or products from different disciplines.
At the launch of the first iPhone in 2007, Steve Jobs took the stage of the Moscone Center in San Francisco.
It was a pre-touchscreen smartphone world. Most consumers controlled their phones with ugly buttons, listened to their favorite music and accessed the Internet on separate clunky devices.
Dressed in blue jeans, white sneakers and a black turtleneck, Jobs told the world he was going to introduce three revolutionary products: a widescreen iPod with touchscreen controls, a mobile phone and an internet communications device.
He flicked between iOS icons representing these three old ideas.
Then Jobs revealed how Apple had combined these ideas to create the first version of the iPhone.
He asked,”Are you getting it? These are not three separate devices; they are one device, and we are calling it iPhone!”
Solve a Problem
Innovating thinking often results from considering a problem people have, even if they don’t recognize it.
One example is the whiteboard. It’s a great tool for brainstorming and a staple in many offices. However, whiteboards aren’t always portable because they’re attached to walls or cumbersome trolleys. They also become dirty and dull over time.
In the 2008 series of Dragons Den in the UK, Neil and Laura Westwood proposed a disposable product they call the Magic Whiteboard. Their idea enables users to tear a whiteboard from the roll in seconds.
They subsequently won a £100,000 investment from Theo Paphitis and Deborah Meaden. Today, the Magic Whiteboard product is for sale in more than 20 countries.
“Magic Whiteboard allows you to create a whiteboard from a roll anywhere it seconds… it sticks to any hard, flat surface without the need for tape, tack or glue,” Neil Westwood said in his pitch.
“People use it in nurseries for drawing on. People use it to block out windows in some flats and bathrooms.”
Putting Innovative Thinking Into Practice
Ultimately, innovation is about drawing connections between different ideas. You can do this as part of a group or alone.
What is needed is not only people with a good background in a particular field, but also people capable of making a connection between item one and item two which might not ordinarily seem connected.