Guy Kawasaki, the former Chief Evangelist at Apple and startup guru, has a great blog dishing advice to entrepreneurs. You can read about what to ask a startup if you are being recruited, how to run a board meeting, how to be a great moderator at a conference, how to raise angel capital for your start-up, the list goes on. I highly recommend subscribing to his feed.
Kawasaki recently posted, surprisingly, on a book called What Would Jackie Do?, a self-help book with lessons from the life and style of Jackie Onassis. Not the kind of book that you expect a technology and business expert to post about. The point that Kawasaki really wanted to make (I think) is at the very end of his post:
One of my recommendations for innovators is that they eat information like a bird eats food. (If you had the metabolic rate of a hummingbird, you would ingest approximately 155,000 calories per day.) This means reading voraciously--and not just HTML for Bozos and Encryption for Lovers--but books like these that are seemingly unrelated to “business.”
Looking for new ideas and new opportunities from new sources is an important tactic to finding innovation. If you stick to the usual sources of information for your industry/ technology, you may be inspired to develop incremental innovations, but you will be unlikely to develop a radically innovative idea. By exposing creative people to fields of expertise different than their own, revolutionary ideas can be developed in a lateral-thinking way. What's not required is a whack to the head, however--what's required is exposure to ideas, procedures, techniques, approaches, and technology that are incremental innovations in other fields but would be radical ones in yours.
The key to the success of this tactic--harvesting ideas from other fields--is in identifying which areas have the greatest potential for opportunity. Sending your key R&D engineers to Fashion Week in NYC may get you some excited high-fives, but be will unlikely to produce value for your company. Fields outside of your own but with overlapping technologies or areas of interest need to be identified--areas that may be producing new concepts that could be translated to your own products and services. In my field of auditory science, there are many examples of established techniques and theories from vision science that have been adapted to hearing to develop innovative new concepts in audition. The research center that I run is looking outside our field of hearing impairment to concepts in cognitive science to inform technology development in hearing aids.
Is it enough to send R&D people to new and different conferences? No. Every potential new concept from another field has to be examined from the perspective of a technical expert from your own field with knowledge of:
- you industry's current and past technology
- your industry's market definition
- your industry's customer needs
- your industry's open research issues.
If your opportunity explorer doesn't have this knowledge of your industry, opportunities for plundering will not be identified because your representative won't have the expertise to identify one when it is revealed, and irrelevant concepts will be recruited by your representative because they are unable to provide on-site analysis, synthesis and filtering of the new approaches to which they are exposed.
Each potential opportunity from the other field that you are exploring has to be viewed through your own lens, from the perspective of the needs of your own industry. When you see an idea that is new to you, ask yourself
Is there an opportunity to apply this in my field?
What nugget of new information here can be applied to solving problems that currently exist in my field?
Once you broaden your field of scope to absorb information from outside of your normal sources of information (although Jackie O may be a little too far outside), you will be surprised to find out how much useful information there is out there. The key is being able to navigate your way to the new worlds of ideas, and have the creativity to identify potential opportunities when you see them.