By Lucy Gower
Innovation isn’t about a single eureka moment; it’s about a series of thoughts and connections that combine to create something new. Einstein didn’t sit in a darkened room waiting for inspiration; he had a team of people working with him, systematically making new connections.
Not every connection will work but failing quickly and learning is crucial to any successful innovation process. However, the wider you cast your net in your search for inspiration, the more you move away from your current, tired and tested patterns of thinking, the more previously unconnected connections you are likely to make and the more chance you have of coming up with something new.
‘I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work’.
Seeking new inspiration takes continued and deliberate effort. However, there are techniques that will help you gather connections that will lead to your breakthrough idea. One of the techniques is called ‘where in the world?’
This is where you think about where else in the world your challenge is faced and consider what solutions you can borrow, or in the words of business management writer Tom Peters ‘swipe with glee’.
‘Swipe from the best, then adapt’. Tom Peters
The particular challenges you are facing will have been solved elsewhere. It’s your job to look outside of what you currently know, identify how others are solving your challenge, learn from them and apply it to your particular situation. It’s not about just copying like for like but finding common principles that you can adapt for your needs. SOFII is a great place to find inspiration that you can adapt, but we also need to look wider at what other organisations outside our sector are doing. For example we need to consider the corporate sector, diverse industries, art, science, history and nature.
Look outside the charity sector
NSPCC and First Direct
If your challenge is to improve your donor experience, you may look at what companies or individuals offer exceptional customer experiences. Learn from them and apply the key elements to how you work with your donors. The NSPCC have worked with online banking organisation First Direct, seeking inspiration from their world-renowned exceptional customer service. NSPCC fundraisers met with First Directs’ customer service team and applied key learning to their stewardship programmes. This approach of asking for expertise can also strengthen your current corporate partnerships or help to build relationships with prospects as an alternative to a formal pitch.
Remove yourself from your topic
Search for examples of ‘where in the world?’ that don’t necessarily relate to your challenge directly. Remember it’s about making new connections. You don’t know what you don’t know - until you try.
· Pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson teamed up with tent makers to develop ways to bond body tissue after operations.
· In the early 90s when the use of aerosols was being discouraged due to the impact on the environment, deodorant companies were inspired by the roller ball pen to spread liquid over a thin area which led to the development of roll on deodorant.
· Johann Gutenberg invented the printing press developed from the technology of the screw-type wine presses of the Rhine Valley.
The Natural World
George de Mestral, while walking in the Jura mountains in France in 1941 noticed burs on his dogs coat and his woollen clothes. On closer inspection he realised they were formed of hundreds of hooks. He went on to duplicate the hooks from Nylon. This led to the development of Velcroä.
Did you know that the Japanese Bullet train was inspired by the shape of the beak of a kingfisher, that Honda studied cockroaches when developing their rough terrain vehicles or that the binding agents in the common blue mussel have been studied for the development of super glues?
Case Study - ColaLife
An inspirational example of the ‘where in the world’ approach is ColaLife. In 1988 Simon Berry was a development worker in remote northeast Zambia. He was bemused that he could buy Coca-Cola everywhere, yet aid organisations struggled to get medical supplies to rural areas. ColaLife identified that part of Coca-Cola’s core business (i.e. the business they were really in), was not soft drink production but logistics and distribution networks. The Coca-Cola company trains and provides transportation to networks of local entrepreneurs in order to get the soft drink to the far reaches of the world. Coca-Cola is delivered by a variety of carts, bikes and on foot to rural areas.
One in every five children die before their fifth birthday from simple causes such as dehydration through diarrhea. If aid agencies could tap into, or learn from Coca-Cola’s distribution networks it would make a huge difference to the lives of children in Africa.
So one solution is for aid agencies to replicate Coca-Cola’s distribution model and develop their own local networks of trained and equipped entrepreneurs. Good idea.
But Colalife have taken this a step further, they are negotiating with Coca-Cola and the local entrepreneurs who distribute the drink to see how they can use their deliveries to get life saving medicines to the children that need it. ColaLife are now piloting this model in Zambia. You can read more on the ColaLife blog or their Facebook page.
Simon had the ColaLife idea 20 years ago, and the help of relatively new social media technologies such as Facebook, Twitter and Flickr have been instrumental in raising awareness and international support of the project.
Case Study - Great Ormond Street and Formula One
Doctors working in the intensive care unit at London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital were seeking ways to more quickly transfer sick children to the operating theatre from intensive care. They noted the speed and accuracy that Formula ones teams carried out the pit stop procedures (which has reduced from 6 minutes in the 1960s to less than 15 seconds now).
The Doctors worked with the pit teams to make their processes more efficient and less error-prone. The pit teams were able to spot many ways for the doctors to work more efficiently. They've completely changed their process; it has now streamlined and both technical errors and information communication errors have been reduced by 40%.
When was the last time you visited a business outside your ‘normal’ remit?
Seven steps to make ‘where in the world?’ easy:
1. Ask yourself ‘what business are you in’? Think of the core competencies required to deliver your project. Think broadly, for example if you are considering the best way to develop a new newsletter; are you a publisher, storyteller, newscaster, web author, project manager, researcher, designer, letter writer, marketer? Very probably a combination of all of these things and more.
2. Then think of where else in the world you could seek inspiration, e.g. news presenters, publishing companies, advertising agencies, authors etc…
3. Now think specifically of organisations, things and people that are already doing this. Write them down.
4. Prioritise your list.
5. Get in touch with them, ask for their advice. If this is daunting, start among your friendship group. Someone is bound to know someone from the industry on your list. People are usually flattered to be asked for help.
6. Think about whether this particular organisation/person can help in other areas of your business for example, could there be opportunities to work with a corporate partner in ways other than pure fundraising?
7. Do it today, while your interest and focus is strong – and let us know how you get on.
8. Keep practicing and applying this technique, as with anything the more you practice the better you will get.
If you want to read more
Sticky Wisdom? What If! The Innovation Company
Where Good Ideas Come From Stephen Johnson
Innovation Matters NCVO