Borrowing Innovation And Thinking Laterally

Which nation was the richest and most powerful in Europe in the early 17th century? About 20 years ago a college professor asked our class a similar question. I knew the answer was Holland, but not because I had the first clue about the political climate at the time, but rather because most of the artists of the time who’s names I knew were dutch.

The more varied your knowledge, the more sources from which you can draw, the more connections you can make to solve problems and generate new ideas.

what you learn outside of your niche may well be more important than your substantive expertise. Read everything you can across diverse topic areas…

The above quote comes from Brian Clark in a post about being creative. Drawing inspiration from other sources leads you to connecting the seemingly unconnectible dots. Creative adaption allows you to develop an original idea in your industry from an old idea in another.

Look outside your industry to innovate in your own. Are you familiar with the cards a sandwich shop might give out where the punch a hole on the card when you pay. Your next purchase gets another hole punched and when you’ve punched all 10 you get a free sandwich. The airline industry used the same concept to revitalize itself in the form of frequent flier miles. When you copy something new in your industry you’ve copied an idea. When you apply an idea from another industry and adapt it to your own you create something worthy of citation. You create something remarkable. You create innovation.

  • Become a better web designer by studying the design of ordinary things around you. Pay attention to the lines of your favorite piece of furniture. Understand why one lamp delivers better light than another with the same light bulb. Apply what you observe to your next website.
  • Write better page titles and headlines by reading the headlines of magazines at the supermarket checkout line. Think about why they work to sell magazines and use the same concepts to get people to click on your page title.
  • Write from the viewpoint of a persona 180 degrees different from your own in order to improve your writing. Borrow from the new style to build a stronger voice when blogging.

If you want to create a story of romance to sell lingerie you’d borrow ideas from romance novels on setting a romantic mood for visitors to your site. Would your product or service appeal to the same type of person that is drawn to romance novels, spy novels, a science fiction movie? Are there ideas you can borrow from movies and genre fiction to add a new twist to your site?

We often look to our own industry for new ideas. If the idea is already present somewhere in your industry it’s no longer new. But if you can adapt innovation from another industry into your own you create something unique, something that gets talked about, and something that brings new people to your site and business.

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  1. True. It’s not necessarily easy, but it’s definitely worth it and the more you practice the easier it gets. If you spend enough time learning about a wide variety of things you do start to see the connections between things that at first glance seem very different.

    But you’re right that it’s not always easy to apply.

  2. Wow. Thank you Josh. I’m not really sure what to say other than to ask if it’s ok to share your comments with my mom. Of course, you realize I’m going to have trouble squeezing my head through the door later and my next few posts will end up being horribly written. I hope not.

    Thanks again. That was really nice of you to say.

  3. Hey Steven,

    I just wanted to comment on your well written and insightful article. I read a lot of “these types” of articles (SEO articles) and it’s rare that one is as well written, articulate, and interesting as this was. So go ahead and give yourself a pat on the back and a “hell yeah.”
    Josh Goldfaden
    Executive Vice President, WebAha!

  4. I think borrowing creative ideas from other fields can help all of us who work in the online space greatly. I find that we try to reinvent the wheel many times because we are not able to look and learn from all the experiences of the offline world. All it takes is willingness to learn and some creativity.

  5. Khalid I agree about not needing to reinvent the wheel. I think it goes beyond that though. If you only stay within your industry you’ll confine your thinking to a certain degree. If you want to break out of the box it’s helpful to see what other industries are doing. Right now there’s probably something happening in the fence building industry that’s worked to build a better fence or bring in more leads. It might not work as an exact copy in another business, but the underlying ideas could be applied into something new that would work in another industry.

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