Saturday, July 6, 2019

How to come up with creative ideas: Play to your strengths and combine with a concept from a parallel field

[Note: I recently started sharing my scribbles on How to come up with creative ideas. To reiterate, my idea in sharing these is to look back at this list for my own inspiration and for those who are interested.]

I was recently reading Before You Start Up: How to Prepare to Make Your Startup Dream a Reality, and came across this story of how Nike was founded. With due credit to the author (Pankaj
Goyal), I am reproducing a part of the story here:
From Business Insider: "Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman was having breakfast with his wife one morning in 1971 when it dawned on him that the grooves in the waffle iron she was using would be an excellent mould for a running shoe"
Here's what happened: Bowerman spent nearly a decade studying jogging best practices, making improvements to athletic footwear designs, and even co-writing a book on running. This was all years BEFORE he had this idea. He teamed up with abusiness partner who had a Master's in business and knew the running shoe market. The two of them earned $3 million selling shoes before designing even one of their own and starting the business we now know as Nike.
While media chose to celebrate the 'aha' moment of Bowerman getting inspired from grooves in the waffle iron as the genesis of Nike, the real story had far many years of toil and focus behind it. It happens in our real lives too when we judge any news on the surface without really digging deep onto the specifics.

However, the point of my interest here was to observe this story and what it teaches us about coming up with creative ideas. As I dissect this story, I really see two parts to it. One is the years of hard-work and precision work that Bowerman put in to gain deep knowledge and insights into the sport of running. The fact that we was a co-author of a book on running wasn't something that I was aware of. He had extraordinary knowledge and ability on the subject and already had been successful in the field.

Now when he looked at the grooves in the waffle iron, it quite naturally activated his running specific neurons and he was able to make the connections between the two. And the rest, as they say, is history.

The learnings from this story is simple. All of us develop a reasonably deep expertise in one or two and if we stay with the expertise long-enough, we end us solving complex problems. If we apply this knowledge tangentially and observe the world around us through the lens of this knowledge, we enhance our chances to make unheard-of connections. Not all connections would be productive, but what would be useful would be to note these down instantly. And possibly discuss with the folks you trust. You never know you may end-up with a big game changing idea.

I would like to phrase this concept as: "Play to your strengths and combine with a concept from a parallel field".

Do you have any more examples ? Please do share in comments.

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