How to Find Your Next Great Idea
By Sam Harrison
MacHillock Publishing Copyright © 2006 Sam Harrison
All rights reserved.
NOBODY SPOTS hot ideas in cold offices.
SO WHY SIT THERE?
ideaSPOTTING = EXPLORATION + ASSOCIATION
LOOK BEYOND THE OBVIOUS AND OBLIGATORY.
Uncover new territory. Discover new thoughts. Dive in. Dig deep.
"We must go beyond textbooks, go out into the bypaths and untrodden depths of the wilderness and travel and explore and tell the world the glories of our journey."
— John Hope Franklin, HISTORIAN
"Exploration is the essence of the human spirit."
— Frank Borman, ASTRONAUT
"In wisdom gathered over time, I found that every experience is a form of exploration."
— Ansel Adams, PHOTOGRAPHER
"Gather and pass on what comes from the depths."
— Paul Klee, artist
Klee compared creative people to trees, extending roots of perception to draw in the nourishment of experience. Nutrition flows through trunks and branches, sprouting ideas.
CONNECT DOTS. BUILD BRIDGES. SPARK CHAIN REACTIONS. AMALGAMATE. ALCHEMIZE.
"Creativity is the power to connect the seemingly unconnected."
— William Plomer, AUTHOR
"When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe."
— John Muir, NATURALIST
"The web of our life is of a mingled yarn ..."
— William Shakespeare
BUT WHY explore WHEN THE FACTS ARE BEFORE YOU?
There's nothing wrong with backbone data. Or raw statistics. Or bedrock demographics. They're fine as far as they go.
The problem is, they don't go far enough. Not if you're looking for information instead of data. And insights instead of information.
IN-FORM OR IN-SIGHT?
To spot ideas, you want insights. Lots of them. Because ideas aren't spotted in forms. They're spotted in sights — those revelatory insights seized only when you roam new turfs, meet new people and have new experiences.
LIGHT BULBS WEREN'T INVENTED BY EXPLORING CANDLES.
IRON SHIPS WEREN'T MADE BY EXPLORING WOOD BOATS.
SKYSCRAPERS WEREN'T DESIGNED BY EXPLORING BUNGALOWS.
WALKMANS WEREN'T INVENTED BY EXPLORING TURNTABLES.
CELL PHONES WEREN'T CONCEIVED BY EXPLORING LAND LINES.
MACS WEREN'T DESIGNED BY EXPLORING CLUNKY, DULL PCS.
It's tough to get a new slant on something when you're looking at it head-on.
A cube head-on is a square.
Step left or right and see its full dimensions.
"People don't think carrot cake is weird.
So when I serve a parsnip cake, that's not weird to me. It's just one step to the side."
— Marcus Samuelsson, NEW YORK CHEF
EXPLORING IGNITES THE idea PROCESS.
My book Zing! Five steps and 101 tips for creativity on command focuses on a five-step methodology for generating ideas. Here's how the process looks:
There's no formula for creativity.
No cookie-cutter solution.
BUT THERE IS DEFINITELY A FLOWING FORM IN THE WAY HIGHLY CREATIVE PEOPLE GLIDE TOWARD EXCITING, ENDLESS IDEAS.
"Behind every design is a process — a thought process. And that process transcends design itself. If you are mapping out a sales strategy, or streamlining a manufacturing operation, or crafting a new system for innovating — if you work in the world of business — you are engaged in the practice of design."
— Chris Bangle, design director, BMW
ideaSPOTTING BEGINS WITH EXPLORING.
exploring begins with an open mind.
It's impossible for people to learn what they think they already know, said Epictetus.
And filmmaker Clint Eastwood put it this way: "Once you feel you know everything, you're done. You're either repetitive or boring or both."
Ideas are as rare as ivory-billed woodpeckers when the mind is closed.
START WITH A BLANK SLATE. FILL IT WITH INSIGHTS.
When it's open, IdeaSpotting happens. You then have what philosopher John Locke termed tabula rasa, a "soft tablet" or blank slate.
All valid knowledge, argued Locke, comes through experience.
"No man's knowledge can go beyond his experiences."
— John Locke, PHILOSOPHER
"You have brains in your head, you have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose ...
Out there things can happen to people as brainy and footsy as you"
— Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You'll Go
open your mind
AND PEOPLE WILL SHOW YOU WHAT'S ON THEIR MINDS.
For years, soft-drink customers lugged twelve-packs built like suitcases. This beat juggling six-packs, but the bulky box was a pain to store in refrigerators.
Alcoa wanted a better idea. So its people spent days in supermarkets, watching customers select and tote soft drinks. They then went home with customers to see how they stored and consumed the drinks.
Alcoa explorers saw people place a few cans in the refrigerator and stash the carton with remaining cans in the pantry. When cold soft drinks were gone, consumers usually searched the fridge for another type of drink rather return to the pantry.
In other words, the suitcase box was actually inhibiting the use of soft-drink cans. Bad news if you're a can manufacturer.
Alcoa explorers hauled their insights into brainstorming sessions and generated hundreds of ideas. The result was Fridge Pack, which stacks a dozen drinks in a tall, narrow box with a built-in can dispenser.
One Alcoa customer — Coca-Cola Co. — called Fridge Pack the greatest innovation in packaging since Coke's contoured plastic bottle.
ethnography: n. the observation and study of people in their natural environments.
"Curiosity is one of the most permanent and certain characteristics of a vigorous mind."
— Samuel Johnson
WATCH. ASK. MAYBE EVEN EAVESDROP.
Procter and Gamble explorers visited customers' homes to check out house-cleaning habits. People told them bathroom cleaning was about as much fun as sticking their hands in wasps' nests. They hated the filthy mess and were frustrated with scrubbing tools not reaching nooks and crannies.
P&G went to work. Designers created MagicReach, a cleaning tool with an adjustable pole, pivoting handle and disposable pads. The pole extends to reach top corners in showers. The handle turns to clean behind toilets. Users never touch dirty pads.
Like P&G, more and more creative firms lock their sensors on customers to detect hot ideas.
When IDEO, the legendary product development firm, designed the interior of Amtrak's express train, its team didn't study the train itself. Instead, explorers focused on the experience of riding the train, watching and talking with more than twenty thousand travelers and employees.
And BuzzMetrics, a leader in word-of-mouth research, explores the Internet — eavesdropping on hundreds of blogs, chat rooms and message boards — to find out what's being said about its clients and coming trends.
ARE YOU EXPLORING BEHIND THE SCENES?
EXPLORE RANGES OF POSSIBILITY.
exploring on the FREE RANGE AND FIRING RANGE.
CREATIVE EXPLORING HAPPENS ON TWO LEVELS.
Free-Range exploring is a way of living. A code of curiosity. A 24/7, what's-around-the-corner, check-it-out life skill.
Firing-Range exploring is project specific. A launching pad. The here's-the-job, there's-the-deadline, ready-aim-fire exploring for a specific challenge.
The two types of exploring aren't mutually exclusive. Nor are they either-or propositions. It's difficult to tell where one drops off and the other picks up.
FREE-RANGE EXPLORING OFTEN FLOWS INTO FIRING-RANGE.
And Free-Range exploring gives head starts on deadlines because you're able to pull from insights gathered over time.
pierian spring: n. A source of inspiration. (From Greek mythology; a spring in Macedonia, sacred to the Muses.)
"All designers at Martha Stewart tend to be collectors, whether it's old books or old type or china patterns or whatever. We go to these pools of resources when we need inspiration for specific projects."
— Kristy Moore, ART DIRECTOR, Martha Stewart Living
make FREQUENT DEPOSITS.
Free-Range exploring builds an inspirational bank account to spend when facing deadline-intense projects.
ASK YOURSELF THIS QUESTION:
Am I filling my life with work, or am I filling my work with life?
FILL YOUR WORK with life.
FREE-RANGE EXPLORING IS ABOUT FILLING YOUR WORK — AND YOURSELF — WITH LIFE.
Leonardo da Vinci was a world-class Free Ranger. Work and life were seamless. He spent his sixty-seven years passionately spotting ideas in nature and elsewhere, then eagerly applying the insights to his work as engineer and artist.
Another great Free-Range explorer was Walt Disney. He harvested ideas from nature, films and, of course, kids. Watching wistful Charlie Chaplin films, Disney conceived Mickey Mouse. Spotting bored children at a run-down playground, he imagined Disneyland.
And there's Woody Norris, prolific inventor of devices like HyperSonic Sound, a system that directs sound much like a laser beam directs light. Norris is a Free Ranger, exploring everything from physics to philosophy to religion. He starts broad, he says, going deep when he runs across a topic of interest.
"We encourage Starbucks designers to get a life. Working day and night on your 'work job' doesn't foster inspiration from outside sources."
— Doug Keyes, SENIOR DESIGNER, Starbucks
EXPAND YOUR FREE-RANGE territory.
Maybe you're already living a Free-Range life. Constantly trying new things. Talking to different people. Listening. Watching. Sketching. Writing.
Maybe you Free Range one day and get fenced in the next. Or maybe your curiosity has been forever penned in some not-so-OK corral.
Whatever your status, there's room for more creative roaming.
IT'S A BIG WORLD.
On the next page are four — out of many — categories for Free-Range exploring. Add activities or people in each category. Make these part of your life. Expand your Free Range habits.
WHAT'S NEW AND DIFFERENT IN YOUR LIFE?
(MOVIES, THEATER, MUSIC, ZOOS, THEME PARKS, ETC.)
(NEWSPAPERS, MAGAZINES, BOOKS, TV, RADIO, ETC.)
(RESTAURANTS, SNACKS, HOME-COOKED MEALS, ETC.)
(FRIENDS, STRANGERS, CUSTOMERS, COWORKERS, ETC.)
to find solutions, FIRST GET LOST.
START PROJECTS BY LOSING YOURSELF IN EXPERIENCES.
That's Firing-Range exploration.
Before John Vanderslice grabbed the reins of Club Med, he took an anonymous trip to the club's Cancun property. There he immersed himself in a week-long job on the water ski dock.
Only the property's manager knew that the guy stacking skis and helping guests out of the water would soon be Club Med's CEO. Vanderslice's undercover work helped him spot ideas to serve him well as top executive.
STRONG IDEAS BEGIN WITH FIRING-RANGE EXPLORATION.
Look at iPod. Its creation didn't ignite from stacks of MBA statistics. The starting point, according to Steve Jobs, was to first understand the customer's listening experiences. That kicked off intense Firing-Range exploration into music habits of users.
LOSE YOURSELF IN CUSTOMERS' EXPERIENCES.
"Perhaps being lost, one should get loster."
— Saul Bellow, WRITER
HOW WIDE IS YOUR WORLD?
Where do you get core news about what's happening in the world?
How do you keep current on what's happening in your field of work?
How do you stay mindful of what's going on in the business world?
How do you learn about the interests, needs and lifestyles of age groups older and younger than you?
How do you gain insights about the perspectives of the opposite gender?
How do you stay current on developments in science and technology?
How do you stay aware of trends in entertainment and style — for various age groups and both genders?
How do you keep expanding your knowledge of the arts and humanities?
How do you become increasingly enlightened about physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being?
"Add preparation to command and GOOD THINGS HAPPEN."
— Curt Schilling, BASEBALL PITCHER
Boston Red Sox ace Curt Schilling was always a good pitcher. But he became great when he began exploring before pitching.
Schilling's laptop holds video clips of opposing hitters. Thick notebooks are packed with observations from the dugout. Hundreds of charts tell him how each batter gets hits off him.
Tiger Woods is a similar explorer. In the 2001 U.S. Open, Woods didn't even make the top ten. But he set a goal to win the next year. Months before the 2002 event, he visited its site in Bethpage, New York.
No entourage. No caddy. No cameras. Just Tiger Woods, slowly and quietly walking the course. When he had seen enough, Woods flew home. For weeks, he worked to overcome challenges spotted during his exploration. And he went on to win the U.S. Open.
"Chance favors the prepared mind."
— Louis Pasteur, CHEMIST
WHAT TRAITS make an IdeaSpotter?
WHICH TRAITS DO YOU EXHIBIT? WHICH DO YOU NEED TO WORK ON?
"Sometime during the two-year curriculum, every MBA student ought to hear it clearly stated that numbers, techniques and analysis are all side matters. What is central to business is the joy of creating."
— Peter Robinson, Snapshots from Hell: The Making of an MBA
what you see IS WHAT YOU GET.
THE MORE you look, THE MORE YOU find.
In the early 1900s, grocer Walter Deubner watched customers shop his shelves. He noticed purchases were limited to what people could carry in their hands and tuck under their arms.
Deubner spotted an idea. He rigged up a large paper bag reinforced with a cord running through it. The patented Dueubner Shopping Bag held seventy-five pounds, and the cord doubled as a handle.
Deubner was soon selling a million bags a year.
People don't always tell us what they want or need.
Henry Ford said, "If we had asked the public what they wanted, they would have said faster horses."
WATCH PEOPLE IN MOTION. WHAT DO THEY REALLY NEED?
See the right people.
Hasbro created a new video game. What would cool kids — those vital early adopters — think of it?
To find out, Hasbro explorers visited Chicago playgrounds, skate parks and video arcades looking for what they called Alpha Pups. They asked boys between eight and thirteen: "Who's the coolest kid you know?"
When they got a name, they found that kid and asked the same question.
They kept climbing the cool-kid ladder until they found boys who answered: "Me." They rounded up those coolest kids — the Alpha Pups — handed out prototypes and watched them play the new game.
SEARCH OUT THE RIGHT PEOPLE FOR SMARTER INSIGHTS.
how IDEASPOTTING STOPPED A CLOSE SHAVE WITH BANKRUPTCY.
In the 1920s, the Odell family's shaving cream firm was heading down the drain. Bankruptcy was only days away.
That's when Allan Odell noticed a series of roadside signs advertising a gas station. If it works for gas, thought Odell, maybe it'll work for shaving cream.
With scrap lumber Odell created the first Burma-Shave signs and staked them along Minnesota's highways, using progressive jingles like:
WITHIN THIS VALE OF TOIL & SIN YOUR HEAD GOES BALD BUT NOT YOUR CHIN
People noticed Odell's signs. They smiled. They told their friends. And Burma-Shave sales jumped to over three million dollars.
The business survived. The signs became advertising icons. All because one guy spotted an idea.
WHAT ARE YOUR EYES SHOWING YOU? (Continues...)
Excerpted from IdeaSpotting by Sam Harrison. Copyright © 2006 Sam Harrison. Excerpted by permission of MacHillock Publishing.
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