Kestutis Gardziulis, one of my kickstarter supporters for Mindfire, asked this question:
How do “crazy” innovations affect serious subjects?
Often crazy ideas in innovation history are described as accidental inventions. Things like how Nutrisweet was discovered when a chemist accidentally licked his fingers, or that Post-It notes were invented out of bad glue. These stories are told as if it were all an accident that could happen to anyone. Most people find stories told this way charming, which is why they’re so popular.
The better way to consider these stories (for anyone serious about creativity) is the people involved were a) paying attention b) working hard.
Any idea, no mater how crazy, silly, or ‘bad’, can be reused in surprising ways, provided a and b are true.
In the cases of both Nutrisweet and Post-It notes, the inventors were not slackers. The only reason they had a chance to make these ‘accidental’ discoveries is that they were in a place of work, and were working. They were not on a beach reading Stephen King novels, nor in their parent’s basement playing XBOX all day (although I do admit, it is also possible to discover ideas in these activities too). The ‘accident’ happened while they were working.
But the most profound thing is that when something crazy happened, they paid attention. They didn’t throw the idea away as most of us would. Instead that asked: “this is weird… how does it work? and what might it be good for?” And set about working hard to find out what the weird or crazy accidental idea might be used for in the world, in some cases, abandoning the initial project that led to the discovery of the crazy thing in the first place.
In another way, crazy ideas that are invented as jokes or as playthings, can also become serious. Silly inventions like Hoola Hoops are now a form of exercise. A similar story is true about the poles used in adult strip clubs. Take a crazy idea from one domain, and bring it into another, and it may become something very serious indeed.
Creativity can simply be seeing a new way to use an old thing, or having the insight and courage to borrow an idea from one domain, or designed for one purpose, and apply it to another.
What stories do you know of, of an idea from one field being reused in another? Please share in the comments.