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Look Where No One Else is Looking

It’s always a good tactic to look for examples of how a particular advantage or gap has been addressed in products or services outside of the situation you’re focused on.

Because the problem is that most easily conceived ideas are the most familiar ones, the ones you’ve experienced most often. As a result, more often than not, the first ideas out of people’s mouths are stale clichés—and the fundamental sin of any disruptive idea is for it to be a cliché.

It reminds me of Robert McKee’s advice to would-be film makers:

“Cliché is at the root of audience dissatisfaction…. Too often we close novels or exit theaters bored by an ending that was obvious from the beginning, disgruntled because we’ve seen these cliché scenes and characters too many times before.”

McKee could just as accurately be describing the first ideas to arise from a typical brainstorming session in a corporate boardroom. To break away from cliché-thinking, you need to develop a habit of looking for alternative ideas instead of immediately accepting the most obvious approaches.

Inspiration for alternative ideas often happens in the periphery, in analogous but not necessarily traditionally competitive categories. This is a powerful exercise, because it’s possible that you could take an idea that was developed in a completely unrelated field and directly apply it to your situation.

Think about the Nintendo Wii, a handheld controller that integrates the movements of a player directly into the video game. The inspiration for the motion controller idea didn’t come from looking at what other video consoles were doing; it came from a completely unrelated source: the accelerometer chip that regulates the airbag in your car.

Airbags respond to sudden changes in movement caused by accidents. Nintendo wondered if it would be possible to combine the accelerometer used by airbags with a handheld controller used to play video games. In other words, if you swung the controller like a tennis racket, could a “virtual you” on the screen swing as well?

The goal is to look closely at the unconnected example and figure out how you could apply the entire idea, or part of it, to your needs. As New York Times columnist and author Thomas Friedman puts it:

“The further we push out the boundaries of knowledge and innovation, the more the next great value breakthroughs—that is, the next new hot-selling products and services—will come from putting together disparate things that you would never think of as going together.”

via design mind


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