Innovations: How to Be Ready when Innovation Strikes by Gina Kotz

Where do innovators get ideas? The answer is simple: From everywhere! More specifically, many ideas come from everyday life.

For example, the invention of the wildly successful 3M Post-It note actually came from a failed attempt at making a permanent adhesive for the back of notepad paper.

In another example, Jen Groover, the inventor of the Butler Bag line of organized purses for “neatniks”, said she got the idea for the first Butler Bag from, of all things, the compartmentalized silverware caddy / basket inside her dishwasher.

The list goes on. But one theme stands out. These innovators—inventors if you will—skillfully connected the dots between a seemingly failed (or otherwise even ordinary) creation and another creation in their mind’s eye that would fill a real-world need.

Recently I had my own “innovation” moment—I was looking for a way to tame several pairs of metal salad tongs in my kitchen drawer. The solution: A paper towel tube cut in half, into which I can slide the tongs, hold them closed, and keep them from snagging on other items in the same drawer. Voila! I now have a free “tong keeper”.

How can you prepare yourself for those unexpected moments when innovation strikes? Here are a few tips.

  • Stay “Open” to Ideas. In order to train your mind to see solutions to problems (essentially the main driver behind innovations), it helps to relax and observe the world around you. Another way is to study problems or study the ways that people informally solve their problems, to get more insights on possible “outside the box” thinking about other solutions.
  • Get out of your routine. This could mean trying a new food each day, taking a different route to or from work, sitting in a different spot for lunch, or reading something different. Different behaviors than the “usual” or norm can keep your mind geared toward the unique. When you “break out of your rut” mentally, you also work different parts of your brain and avoid the “auto-pilot” mode. Any ingrained ways of acting or thinking can be numbing and can cut you off from hatching new ideas in your mind.
  • Pay attention where and/or when you tend to get ideas. Some people get their best ideas while in the shower, while going for a morning jog, or while working out. Some people get ideas before bedtime or just after waking up. Do you know when you have your best ideas, and where you usually are? Some of us who have had life- changing ideas generally know the answer to this question. And even if you haven’t had any life-changing ideas? Start to take note of where and when you get ideas. Pay attention to this starting today.
  • Be ready to capture your ideas. Maybe it is on your phone or tablet or laptop, or maybe you carry a good old- fashioned paper and pen or pencil. Whatever it is, make sure it is handy so you can do drawings of your idea or to write it down. As in the Post-It and Butler Bag examples, the “light bulb” moment comes when you might not expect it—so it pays to be prepared.  

The human mind is a complex space. Since our minds often literally have a “mind of their own”, these tips can help you to be ready whenever (or wherever!) those innovative ideas might strike.

gina_kotz_gray_ge_hr_friendlyGina Kotz, CSQE
Gina is a Lead Technical Writer at GE Healthcare Specialty Solutions