The Power of Ideas

Knowledge and information is being created and shared globally at a faster rate than ever before. In world of real-time news, consumer-ceased content and everything online we are even exceeding our ability to store the data we have created. With more brains and more computing power the speed of innovation is increasing - along with our ability to copy those innovations rapidly. We are all increasingly becoming knowledge workers, finding, harnessing and nurturing ideas, whether new, borrowed, adapted or occasionally radical breakthroughs. Be faster, be smarter, be more creative, are recurring mantras across the world in all aspects of life and work.

So where do we look for inspiration? Where do we find a stream of ideas that we can build from? An interesting book from Andy Boynton and Bill Fischer, with William Bole, offers some important insights into the realm of idea hunting - perhaps even an emerging profession in its own right? The Idea Hunter is subtitled "How to find the best ideas and make them happen." The most important word in the entire title is "find." The key myth that this book exposes is that ideas are seldom breakthrough, new discoveries of momentous importance that spring from the brains of the gifted creative or super-intelligent scientist toiling in splendid isolation in a lab. Rather, ideas are everywhere and even the normal among us can find them, shape them and create value from them - if we take the time to look.

That's the challenge. Too often people in a normal job think it is someone else's responsibility to come up with the ideas. We are not challenged or do not challenge ourselves to think beyond our traditional sphere of operation or stimulation. The clever guys in the lab or down the hall in the innovation centre do that. Well here's a newsflash: Everyone can be and should be an idea hunter, according to the authors.

I'm not going to do a full review of the book here, but let me just highlight some key lessons from the diverse and eclectic mix of examples of idea hunting which the authors note:

  • Ideas help if you know your gig – where you are going and why it matters. Passion and purpose provides the context for the search for ideas.  
  • Idea Hunters define their own playing field; they are not limited by how their organization, industry or profession may define the idea hunt; they are ready to unlearn.
  • They recognize how the world around them connects with their plans and projects, constantly observing, learning, seeking diverse ideas and challenging conventional thinking.

These lessons apply equally to the broader notion of trends, which could be characterized as emerging and interconnected sets of ideas, behaviors and characteristics of the world.  You and your organization may have a vision, the realization of which will be influenced by the context of the trends and changes impacting the world around you.  Understanding not only what these trends are, but translating them into implications for you/your organization will allow you to shape the options and choices available along the way. But it is important that you define the playing field, as opposed to following conventional wisdom.  What we knew will not necessarily allow us to see what is new unless we actively seek diverse perspectives and challenge existing mental models.   

Whether idea hunting or trend hunting, as Andy and Bill suggest: Brilliance is optional.  Anyone interested in leveraging the power of ideas and trends could benefit from a couple of hours spent reading about the principles in the book:

  • Be interested, not just interesting: Be curious and take an active interest in the world – almost anyone could offer a great idea.
  • Diversify the hunt: Use a diverse mix of sources for ideas, seek many perspectives whether or not they seem related, and actively bridge the distances between specialties.
  • Exercise idea muscles regularly: Constantly observe and organize ideas; bounce them off other people – but be open to serendipity. If you wait for a problem to begin the hunt, it will be too late.
  •  Be agile in handling ideas: Ideas are constantly in motion, evolving and emerging – reflect and prototype often, but keep up the idea flow.

Enjoy the book – I’m off to trend hunt…