In 2010, I had an idea for a new product for the company I worked for. I had put together a business plan and presented it to the company’s CEO. A week later I presented it to the board of directors. My presentation was very well received, and the directors described the product as very innovative and “life-altering” for the company. After the board meeting was over, one board member followed me to my office and stated decisively: “an idea like this comes to a person only once in a lifetime.”
“Why do you think that?” I asked, to which he replied: “because innovation is accidental! You cannot control when an idea like this will come to you.”
I had to think about that for a while. He believed that innovation was purely accidental. His position was supported by the glory of great “accidental ideas” that preceded my new product idea. Newton’s apple, Archimedes’ Eureka! and others. However, were those really accidental? Or was there an event that was merely the stimulus to launch this idea into their consciousness?
I took the analogy further. Say I was riding my bike, and wanted to have an accident (I told this story once to an audience that included my two daughters, Maya and Shira. They had a terrified look on their faces when I said that, so I immediately explained that this was a hypothetical scenario. Then I had to explain what a hypothetical scenario was…). If I was riding my bike on the bike trails in the park, the probability of an accident is minimal, if at all. Cars don’t drive in parks trails. However, if I was riding my bike South on the Dallas Tollway (an infamously jammed highway in the Dallas area) at 8AM—I would have an accident. Guaranteed! And the analogy: The aha! moment may be accidental, but you can put yourself in situations where those accidents are more likely to happen. In other words—you can act in ways, and do things that would allow you to be more creative. The following pages describe what actions you could take to increase the probability of such “accidents.”
In Chapter 12 of my 2016 book “Un-Kill Creativity: How Corporate America can Out-Innovate Startups” (“Why do we get our best ideas in the shower?”), also covered in my article “4 Steps to Generate More Creative Ideas, and Better Ones” I explained how to create that “accident-prone” environment in which new ideas occur at a much higher rate.
Image credit: Pixabay
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Dr. Yoram Solomon is an inventor, creativity researcher, coach, consultant, and trainer to large companies and employees. His Ph.D. examines why people are more creative in startup companies than in mature ones. Yoram was a professor of Technology and Industry Forecasting at the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, UT Dallas School of Management; is active in regional innovation and tech transfer; and is a speaker and author on predicting technology future and identifying opportunities for market disruption. Follow @yoram