|How to think
for great ideas
The current authors certainly
wouldn't disagree with this analysis - except to say that the "problem" was not
correctly defined. And Ellyard makes a vital point: generally we all try to define a
problem too narrowly. Define your problem as "unemployment", for example, and
you may restrict your answers to new jobs - and not consider retraining leave or the
desirability of leisure and study-time.
When consulting engineer William J. J. Gordon was given
the task of finding a new way to open cans, he deliberately didn't use the word
"can-opener" when briefing his engineers and designers. Instead they toyed with
such notions as a banana and its easy-peel abilities. Their eventual solution: the
ring-pulls you now see on most tear-tab cans. A "can-opener" approach would have
limited the result.11
Whether you use the problem-solving or
mission-directed approach, you generally won't come up with a great idea unless you define
a specific goal in advance.
There are, of course, many exceptions. Bacteriologist
Alexander Fleming stumbled on penicillin when confronted with a strange mould growing at
St. Mary's Hospital in London.
And when Massachusetts inventor Percy Spencer was
working on a novel radar system in 1945, it struck him that the radiation it emitted could
have a culinary use. So he hung a pork chop in front of the magnetron machine he was
working on. And, as British BBC presenters Peter Evans and Geoff Deehan report, he
"produced the first microwave meal in history".12
In another of history's quirks, it was the Japanese who capitalized on the invention.
"When a Japanese firm started to manufacture magnetrons, it was forbidden under the
peace treaty to undertake military contracts. Therefore it concentrated on peaceful uses
of microwave technology; now Japan leads the world in microwave sales." Or at least
it did until the Koreans caught up.
But most breakthroughs come from a firm vision of the
future: a specific goal. Many of those creative techniques can be adapted from other
fields. Advertising, for example, has given us "brainstorming"13 - the
original idea of Alex Osborn, one of the founders of Batten, Barton, Durstine and Osborn,
the giant advertising agency.
Here are some specific examples of how you can apply
the brainstorming, ideas-creation process in practice:
When you're looking for a new idea, can you:
Double it: like London's double-decker buses? Halve
it: like bikinis
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