Innovation is one of those buzzwords that gets thrown around so much in the digital sector that it’s almost become ambiguous. All products are now innovative and everyone is innovating.
What does it really mean?
An innovation is a new idea or product that solves an original or existing problem in a new and improved way.
Everybody wants to be working on innovative and exciting ideas but coming up with truly original ideas is difficult. For every ten ideas you have; how many of them haven’t already been done? It’s usually the case that someone has beaten you to it.
So, how can you come up with original ideas? The broad answer is – you need to become a more original and diverse person with your own unique perspective on the world.
1. Diversify Your Interests
If you have the same interests as everyone else – drinking, watching TV shows and posting photos of your dinner on Facebook then you’re unlikely to have original ideas because you have a very limited pool of interests to generate them from.
Many of the most innovative ideas we’ve seen in the world are sparked from their creator’s own interests and problems.
When product designer – Jane ni Dhulchaointigh – got fed up fixing broken products she created a smelly, silicon caulk from waste and wood dust from her workshop floor. After a few iterations on the product Sugru may now be one of the most useful products on the planet and it generates millions in revenue each year.
When Pieter Levels went travelling around the world to work from his laptop, he wanted to discover cool new places that were warm, safe and had good internet. He put together a Google spreadsheet and posted it to Twitter where thousands of people helped to edit and curate it.
That spreadsheet later became Nomad List – an online leaderboard for the best cities for remote workers and digital nomads to live and work from. Levels single handedly designed, built and marketed it by himself – and it now makes $40k a month.
It was through both Jane and Pieter’s interests that they came up with such original ideas.
You don’t have to go to extreme measures, but taking up new interests and hobbies can greatly fuel your creativity and foster innovation. Why not take a salsa class, start a new sport, learn a new language or try your hand at wakeboarding?
Do something different if you want to have different ideas.
The most innovative ideas may even come from taboo topics. Cake is an online service that stores your end of life preferences – everything from your funeral arrangements to what happens to your Facebook account when you die. Northern Ireland’s own Plotbox have also had huge success innovating in the much taboo death industry.
The dating site Ashley Madison has over 46 million users and it’s user base consists entirely of people who are either married or in committed relationships.
Taboo industries are generally ripe for innovation because most people don’t want to – or are afraid to work in them.
2. Diversify Your Skills
Learning new skills is great for developing your creativity and personal confidence. You don’t have to learn skills that are related to your day job – learning anything that is new and fun can help you come up with original ideas and also help you create stories and content to share with the world. Keep it playful and experiment as you go.
When I learnt to cook last year (I left it late), I started a food blog to share my own recipes just for fun and I’ve learnt some crazy new skills in my pursuit –like how to carve platters of fruit.
Learning new skills that relate to your day job can also open up a world of opportunities to you. Designer or Marketer? Learn to code. Artist? Learn some digital marketing skills.
Don’t take learning too seriously, it should be fun and even though you might not have a use for your new skills right away, you never know what ideas you’ll conceive when you connect the dots with something else.
After a conversation in the pub one night with my friend about artificial intelligence (Ai), I went home and started experimenting with Ai. I didn’t have any purpose for an Ai in mind – it was just fun to learn and play with. Then a week later I connected the dots and realised I could use my new skill to solve a problem I had experienced while travelling a few months prior (finding vegan restaurants abroad). I then built a simple Ai companion that answers questions on the best places to eat for vegans.
If I hadn’t diversified my interests by going travelling and learning a new skill by creating an artificial intelligence I would never have put the two together to form a new idea for a product.
Building my Ai product has not only provided me with a new skill, it’s now providing me with ongoing ideas of how I can integrate the same technology into my other products.
Diversifying your skills can also give you an edge in your career. IDEO CEO – Tim Brown – refers to their talent recruitment process as seeking T-shaped people. Those who have a deep core skill (the vertical stroke of the T) but also have skills in other disciplines (the horizontal stroke).
3. Diversify Your Surroundings
Innovation is about seeing new problems or ways to solve existing problems in new ways. If you’re living the same routine every day and speaking to the same people then you’re unlikely to discover new problems or develop new ways of looking the world.
I’ve always championed the idea that everybody should travel and work abroad for a while because it’s incredibly easily to get stuck in a bubble and fail to see things outside of the perspective of your culture.
When you travel you’re forced to embrace new cultures and ways of doing things. You see the world from a new perspective and you discover problems that you never even imagined existed. You meet new people who live very different lifestyles and have different interests. You can learn a lot and discover new opportunities from both of these experiences.
If travel isn’t your thing, the next best option is to surround yourself with a diverse group of people. If you’re a techie then don’t just go to tech meetups; spend some time with artists, writers, chefs and illustrators and learn about what other people do for a living and what their interests are. You never know what kind of ideas these cross-disciplinary conversations can spark.
I’m writing this article from a co-working space in Bangkok where I’m surrounded by people from all over the world who work in many different industries: from Kindle publishers to wine-sellers. I’ve learnt so much in the past week simply by having conversations with these people. I’ve even written a Kindle book myself!
So what are you going to do today to give yourself a new perspective and help you come up with innovative new ideas?