I recently watched an episode of the "Nature of Things" hosted by David Suzuki.
The show was looking at the fact that there is an element of randomness to many great discoveries. In fact, many of the greatest discoveries of the past several hundred years were the direct result of an accident or oversight.
The inventors could have dismissed the anomaly and went back to the original premise. Instead, they were intrigued and either continued the investigation down the new path or found a use for the discovery that was way off the original goal.
The other aspect was looking at how research these days is too focused on a specific objective and how scientists are penalized (loss of grants) for spending time on a branch. Part of this was also spending time outside of the direct specialization reading and learning about other things.
Serendipity plays a huge role in creating new things.
Now if your business is like ours… ideas, creations and intellectual property are the big ways of standing out from your competition. So this makes me think… you can try too hard to come up with new ideas.
I think you need to broaden the way you think into three categories:
- Focus effort on targeted research and development (R&D).
- Allow your teams to pursue branches in the discovery tree or spend some time on relatively unrelated R&D as well.
- Most importantly, be willing to see mistakes or accidents as something that might be applicable somewhere else and not dismiss them.
Over the years, as a company, we've built up a considerable list of intellectual property, experience and know-how for ourselves and our clients. Our next big product might be a reapplication or recombination of something we already have or know… if only we could see it.
The next invention is an accident waiting to happen. Hopefully, we will be open enough to see it when it does. Having an open and optimistic mind will definitely help.