When was the last time you had a truly revolutionary/unique/original idea? This question was posed to me during my studies for the MBA at the University of Limerick and had me quickly stumped. Since then, I have often pondered it and often try to apply it to my personal and professional life. In my own field of marketing, being creative is a necessary part of the role and thinking differently can help set one apart from others, cut through the clutter and get your message across. I believe that this is true across all professions and lifestyles and that there is merit to it.
What got me thinking?
During my studies there was one particular assignment which required the class to come up with five original concepts for products/services that could form the basis of a viable company. The assignment was flexible, in that we could exercise creativity and stretch current limitations of technology/knowledge (within reason). One key requisite was that any idea we submitted would be deemed invalid if any outright evidence or reference to it was found online . . . the pressure was on.
Out of all the assignments over the two years of the MBA this was the one that perhaps give me the most trouble. For days I came up with great ideas, all of which I subsequently found reference to online – (all the good ideas were taken apparently). I asked friends, family and co-workers, in my desperation I even asked on social media to no avail. What eventually got me through it was starting my day with a conscious thought of analysing everything I did and asking myself how it could be done differently, silence was my friend and in this case (much to the possible disdain of my teachers from earlier parts of my education) daydreaming became an asset and assisted in the formulation of new amazing, interesting and sometimes stupid, irrelevant ideas.
Looking back, I believe that the assignment was more about opening our minds to how we have become predictable mindless robots. A harsh statement perhaps, but fundamentally there is a truth there. We are so used to going about our daily lives in a certain manner and as human beings we are comfortable in routine – any variations or deviation from the norm can cause stress, anxiety and put us out of sorts. The key is to recognise that there is an opportunity to had at this stage and that variations in routine and thinking differently can help identify and realise opportunity. “Personal development” springs to mind here, are we sabotaging ourselves creatively?
In my own case I was a perfect example of doing everything in a predictable manner and with my love of technology, I was either working on, or generally watching a screen of some description, whether it be television, computer or Kindle. Even while driving/commuting I would be listening to the radio or an audiobook – in short I was constantly being entertained or stimulated in some fashion, giving me no “alone time” to ponder, reflect, analyse or even relax.
You may ask “what’s wrong with routine”? Without stopping and giving yourself time to think you merely go through the daily steps of your own routine and may perhaps lose any opportunity to do things differently, learn something new or move forward. In the business world, we often hear about companies going “stagnant” through lack of growth and that stagnation is bad, leading to a loss of competitive advantage or the fostering of unproductivity. Why shouldn’t we apply this concept to ourselves as individuals? We are not necessarily looking for competitive advantage but certainly we should never be putting a glass ceiling above our own growth potential.
With this in mind, perhaps consider taking some time out in silence to reflect and consider your daily routine and deliberately do things differently, just to see what happens. Change is good and you might even find it preferable. In my own case I have limited my use of electronic devices, gone back to exercising regularly and taking time out to reflect and think. At this stage I cannot say for sure if it has had positive consequences but certainly I feel more optimistic and enthusiastic about the future in terms of my outlook on life, career opportunities and learning. I suggest you try it, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
The obligatory quote
“Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine, and at last, you create what you will” – George Bernard Shaw
As an exercise you might like to try out (in part) the assignment I mentioned previously. A summarised example of my own work/ideas, as a submitted during the MBA program is outlined below as an example.
*Remember, it must be unique but it can be a variation of an existing product/service and have the potential to become a viable product. It’s much harder than you think, good luck.
Name: LED Ground Projected Hazard Signs
Product type: Product
Description: Top screw mounted LED circumference projector to adhere to standard A-frame warning sign or standard traffic cone. Place sign/cone at the centre of the hazard and a safety boundary will be projected for pedestrians/motorists to avoid. Traffic cones could also be used to designate boundaries – with the boundary line between each cone projected on the ground to highlight the designated area. Rechargeable battery to power LED and a small solar cell on top to charge/run LED’s during daylight and power them for night-time/dark use. The screw top can be screwed to shrink/enlarge the area as required.
Product type: Smart phone protective case and battery extender
Description: Charge your phone in your pocket. The FriCharge uses the power of friction (static electricity) to trickle charge power back into your smart phone and extend battery life. This technology is based off a static charge which is named the triboelectric effect were power can be harnessed using special types of plastic, metal and polyethylene terephthalate. When they come into contact with each other they become charged.
Product type: Product/service to allow security staff to identify medical/surgical implants which set off airport alarm scanners
Description: NFC/RFID tagged medical implants which broadcast information about specific implants. If a medical implants sets off an alarm, the individual is asked to step aside for an additional scan. The wand used would have an inbuilt NFC/RFID reader which would pick up specific information about the items thus alleviating security concerns and speeding up the security process, simultaneously preserving the dignity of the person being scanned (stress-free process).
*Near field communication (NFC) is a set of communication protocols that enable two electronic devices, one of which is usually a portable device such as a smartphone, to establish communication by bringing them within 4 cm (2 in) of each other. (Source: Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Near_field_communication)
Product type: Product with temperature-sensitive material.
Description: Disposable hospital gowns/pyjamas which change colour to indicate when a patient’s temperature has risen to alarming (or set) temperature. It works by adding an Ink which is heat sensitive to the garment.
Product type: IOS/Android App
Description: An application that uses the front facing camera of a tablet such as an Apple iPad to track eye movement, dedicated to visually impaired users to assist with reading. To be used specifically with iOS/android devices in conjunction with applications which provide digital content such as daily newspapers and magazines. This concept may also have application with regards to general Internet browsing.
There is a variety of newspapers and magazines which are available digitally which allow the users to zoom in and out using the “pinch and spread” finger gestures on the touchscreen. For older (non-tech savvy) individuals particularly those with visual impairments the multitude of options and difference in inputs required for reading on a tablet can be confusing. Some will read out loud text when selected however the means to achieve this is often overly complicated.
For example, when a person is reading on a tablet, the application (through the camera) will detect where the person is reading and if the reader is struggling, it will result in – zooming in on a specific area of the screen and scroll according to eye movement. This should result in a much better and simplified reading experience for the user.
Using a web camera this technology could also be incorporated into a standard desktop PC for similar use.
P.S: I would love to know your thoughts on the ideas/concepts above and if anyone runs with them. Special thanks to Michele O ’Dwyer at the University of Limerick who inspired this article and my MBA class of 2016.
Copyright Jerry Crowley 2016. Thanks for taking the time to read this article. If you’ve any questions or queries please don’t hesitate to ask your questions in the comments section below.