Looking for Something New? Try Using Different Eyes

I’ve read some great posts about innovation recently. Some that say we are the most forward-thinking working generation in history, and others that say we wouldn't recognize a good idea if it sent us a push notification on our phones.

So who has it right? What separates objective observation from subjective scrutiny? I’m reminded of a great joke, one that stands the test of time and is innovative in its own right. It goes like this:

    The best scientists in the world all gathered in a room to decide, once and for all, which was the greatest invention of all time. For days, they argued the benefits of the wheel and the assembly line, the combustion engine and pulleys, the irrigation system and the like. But they just couldn't come to an agreement on one single best invention.

    Late on the second night, the building janitor was making his rounds when the scientist in charge asked him to come over. “Earl,” he said, “We've been at this for days and just can't decide. So why don't you tell us what you think. What would you say, in the layman's opinion, was the greatest invention of all time?”

    Earl took off his hat, leaned on his broom handle, and scratched his head. Then he said, “Well, sir, I think I'd have to say it's the thermos.” After a brief, awkward silence, the head scientist said, “The thermos? But why? All it does is keep hot things hot and cold things cold.”

    “Yeah,” Earl answered, “but how does it know?”

I heard that joke from a wise man long ago, and I've lost count of how many times I have recited it to refocus my thinking. It isn't just that we sometimes forget to keep it simple, but that we fail to notice the changing standards of our measurements. The familiar becomes a barrier to learning, to new ways of seeing ordinary and extraordinary things.

Industries, to date, have operated in silos, innovating from within and measuring themselves against each other for confirmation. But when you look across them as a whole, you find some have moved far beyond others in many areas, be it technology, communication, efficiency, or quality.

Therefore, it's vital, as business folk, that we step out of our habits and our routines to see our problems and our dilemmas with new eyes. How far you step away is up to you, but new Internet technologies like social media allow us to see further than we could before. We can see how other companies and other industries are facing similar challenges and overcoming them in ways we might never have entertained.

Initiatives like TED talks provide us with food for thought and for action on a regular basis. And events such as the SXSW interactive festival (more on this later) give us a chance to mix with people in our field who are succeeding or struggling in other industries.

There's no shortage of new ways of thinking, just as there is no one right way to do things. So keep your mind open to new ideas and different ways of looking at your business. You just might discover new possibilities when you look with different eyes.

So what about you? Where do you go for new ideas on solving old problems?

27 comments on “Looking for Something New? Try Using Different Eyes

  1. Tim Votapka
    April 8, 2011

    Great post! I think the best place to go is to the customer base you're trying so hard to retain in your sphere. Find out what's needed or wanted, then present and do that. It works and always drives success.

  2. Ariella
    April 8, 2011

    Absolutely, that's how social media can be helpful, as well, in gainig feedback from your customer base about what it is working and what could be improved.

  3. t.alex
    April 9, 2011

    Talking to somewhere who may have different views really helps sometimes.

  4. Nemos
    April 9, 2011

    Looking for Something New? Try Using Different Eyes this phrase say it all by itself ,

    “a practical hint” that I use to unblock myself  when I stuck with a problem. I stop thinking anything about the problem,  let's say I make a small brake but without thinking anything that relates with the problem. And suddenly a lot of ideas come ……

    Furthermore, I believe if you want something new use your Imagination and trying to see from a different side.

  5. Anna Young
    April 9, 2011

    I agree that it is essential to step out of old habit, assess and evaluate with a different eye. Social media is one criteria that assist in measuring business performance and enabling fresh ideas. 

  6. eemom
    April 10, 2011

    New great ideas stem from a current need for advancement or to fulfill a gap.  The best way to look at the problem with different eyes, is asking, investigating and listening to what people say.  Not all ideas or conversations will be useful but out of the entire conversation a brilliant idea may emerge.

  7. Kunmi
    April 11, 2011

    Tackling difficult situation is just like driving. In our lives, we get to the stop signs when you must make the right decision to avoid being crushed. At that point, you are forced to pause, think and make a decision. For something new to crop up, we need to have a second look with an open heart. The natural instinct is there but we miss it at times because of the haste to achieve the desired goal. Never be afraid to fail but when you fail pick up your strength to rise again. We all enjoy electricity today, have you ever thought of how many times Isaac Newton failed before the success was achieved? The power to perform is right inside of individuals if we can listen to it.

  8. Hardcore
    April 11, 2011

    Rather than using different eyes sometimes all that is a basic re-focusing of the vision.

    An example would be to look at the natural world and how various 'engineering' problem are solved, despite all of our knowlege/understanding and technology we are still incapable of designing or simulating an ants brain.

    Many of the greatest inventions have actually been copied from  nature, even in the design of modern semiconductors  including LED lighting which is based in part on the technology of biological luminance and biological dyes.

    There is a whole new frontier opening up for designers and engineers who, rather than continually trying to fight the natural world with human based solutions are gradually taking natures lead, with the result that innovation in organic technology & materials are moving to a position that may well be the next technological frontier.

    Through the use of organics we are moving forward in growing/printing components rather than having to utilize methods that nature would seldom utilize, even the humble spider is turning out to be a source of significant  engineering solutions (a quick read-up on spider silk and nano-tubes)

    Possibly the future of engineering is going to be based more along the lines of Biological systems, there may even be a requirement for future engineers to have a strong background in Biology.



  9. alawson
    April 11, 2011

    @Tvotapka & @Ariella —  Thanks for the comments. Social is a great way to stay in tune with customers and gauge their desires. I believe we can do even better. The best value we can bring to a customer is the innovation they haven't thought of yet. Use their feedback as a baseline, then think forward and scan the environment for solutions that answer the questions yet unasked.


  10. alawson
    April 11, 2011

    @Nemos — Thanks for the hint. I like to do this as well. I work on several projects in a day, so that I have something else to focus on when a problem presents itself. This works for writing, design, and just about everything I do.

  11. alawson
    April 11, 2011

    @eemom & @t.alex  — Appreciate the comments. It is important to stay in tune with your market by whichever means you can. At the times when you are struggling for ideas, it's refreshing to scan a broader area. And though broader areas will yield fewer fully applicable answers, you are more likely to find a spark you might not have considered before.

  12. alawson
    April 11, 2011

    @kunmi — Great advice here. I think the key is recognizing the haste of the normal process. Once you realize you are moving too fast, you can give yourself time to better consider your options. 

  13. Adeniji Kayode
    April 12, 2011

    Thats true, you are right but sometimes some of the comments can be image- destroying and if well handled can be an advantage.

  14. Adeniji Kayode
    April 12, 2011

    In that case, do you mean to say that failure is not a failure until we fail to learn from it. And if we learn from it, great is the result and the outcome.

  15. Adeniji Kayode
    April 12, 2011

    Hardcore: I totally agree with you on that. I feel there is a life force in every livings probably something divine from which all  things that have ever been invented came out from. And to move up in inventions accounding to Kunmi , we have to listen to that thing, listen inward, see the future and solve the problem.

  16. stochastic excursion
    April 12, 2011

    In Engineering Design 101 we learn about the ideation phase of design.  This phase occurs before applying any constraints, cost, materials, etc.  If you put constraints first you are always looking at that box to fill.

  17. prabhakar_deosthali
    April 13, 2011

    To create something new , one must forget that there are any constraints to his invention or idea coming into practice. Once you believe in your idea then the constraints can be eliminated one by one . More the constraints more will be the experiments.  but the idea will finally win. and you will find the right soluion to implement your idea.  I find the TV advertising creators are greatest crative thinkers of today. They come up with so many original ideas , scenarios, It is just hats off to them. Manyy times it makes watching those commercials a very thought provoking game for me. Many a times I just wonder “how the hell the guy thought about this scenario!”

  18. alawson
    April 13, 2011

    @Hardcore — Thanks for the comment. I like the idea of mimicking organic design in our own creations.  Seems Mercedes feels the same:


  19. alawson
    April 13, 2011

    @stochastic excursion — Always a good reminder, and one that doesn't just apply to new projects. In my work, I often get in the habit of creating fixes for problems, instead of taking a step back to analyze the larger model to see if a re-imagining might make the problem an impossibility.  

  20. alawson
    April 13, 2011

    @prabhakar_deosthali — I'll have to agree that the ad geniuses of the world are to be envied. Remember though, it's their job to be creative; to spend hours at a time brainstorming the original and the ideal. And while most of us don't get the time to do the same with our own work, we still desire similar outcomes. Maybe the quality of our work would improve exponentially if we set aside a few hours a day to step outside our 'job' and brainstorm possibilities. Thoughts?

  21. prabhakar_deosthali
    April 14, 2011

    You said it! Every organization which aims at doing something innovative needs to have such brainstorming sessions where people from all the levels of the organization must participate on an equal platform. The discussions could turn out to be  crazy but the outcome may be some incredible idea which can be converted to a credible product with some systematic effort. In one of my organizations where I was part of the concept R & D team, our chairman used to spend about an hour every day after lunch to have a free discussion with all of us on new ideas. And many times we came up with some really innovative solutions for our automobile business.

  22. itguyphil
    April 14, 2011

    That's the typical tech's mentality.

    Working in tech for so long, I don't know how many times I've taken the LOOONG way to solving such a simple problem. Just because I followed the 'standard' procedure to the fix.

  23. Himanshugupta
    April 26, 2011

    Prabhakar, this is typical of a small RnD group or small organization. Discussing ideas to solve a problem usually works out in finding a simple solution. It takes a lot of effort and camaraderie to work in a group to find a simple solution. 

  24. mario8a
    April 27, 2011

    There are so many thoughs in my mind … been in the insdutry for so long ( 13 years) I've seen so many good ideas, but most of them are push away with this mentallity:

    Quality is first priority, mmmm ok but what about schedule?   well Schedule is first priority then Quality, hey…!!! but Cost is very important…. ok then .. Schecule, cost and then Quality.





  25. alawson
    April 27, 2011

    @Himanshugupta – It sounds funny to think of it that way, but I agree that this is most often the case. We tend to think that large problems can only be countered with large solutions. (fight fire with fire) It can take several minds to get past this roadblock and realize simply that water would do the trick.

  26. alawson
    April 27, 2011

    @mario8a – Thanks for the comment. I share your frustration. We innovate and improve where and when we can. And although 'on time' and 'within budget' are great descriptors, they truly mean little if there is not a 'quality product'.

  27. mario8a
    April 27, 2011

    Hi alawson

    Thank you for replying to my comment, we have so many opportunities for innovation, we have to keep tyring.

    Great article, thanks 

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