Monthly Archives: December 2010

Look outside of what you know

Innovation isn’t about a single eureka moment; it’s about a series of thoughts and connections that combine to create something new. Einstein didn’t sit in a darkened room waiting for inspiration; he had a team of people working with him, systematically making new connections.

Not every connection will work but failing quickly and learning is crucial to any successful innovation process. However, the wider you cast your net in your search for inspiration, the more you move away from your current, tried and tested patterns of thinking, the more previously unconnected connections you are likely to make and the more chance you have of coming up with something new.

‘I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work’. Thomas Edison

Seeking new inspiration takes continued and deliberate effort. However, there are techniques that will help you gather connections that will lead to your breakthrough idea. One of the techniques is called ‘Where in the world?’

Where in the world?

Where else in the world is your challenge is faced?  Consider what solutions you can borrow, or in the words of business management writer Tom Peters ‘swipe with glee’.

‘Swipe from the best, then adapt’. Tom Peters

The particular challenges you are facing will have been solved elsewhere. So look outside of what you currently know, identify how others are solving your challenge, learn from them and apply it to your particular situation. It’s not about just copying like for like but finding common principles that you can adapt for your needs. The Showcase of Fundraising Innovation and Inspiration is a great place to find fundraising inspiration that you can adapt, but you also need to look wider, for example the corporate sector, diverse industries, art, science, history and nature.

Look outside of what you know and remove yourself from your topic

Search for examples of ‘where in the world?’ that don’t necessarily relate to your challenge directly. It’s about making new connections. You don’t know what you don’t know – until you try.

▪  Pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson teamed up with tent makers to develop ways to bond body tissue after operations.

▪  In the early 90s when the use of aerosols was being discouraged due to the impact on the environment, deodorant companies were inspired by the roller ball pen to spread liquid over a thin area which led to the development of roll on deodorant.

▪  Johann Gutenberg invented the printing press developed from the technology of the screw-type wine presses of the Rhine Valley.

Get Inspired – ColaLife

An inspirational example of the ‘where in the world’ approach is ColaLife. In 1988 Simon Berry was a development worker in remote northeast Zambia. He was bemused that he could buy Coca-Cola everywhere, yet aid organisations struggled to get medical supplies to rural areas. ColaLife identified that part of Coca-Cola’s core business (i.e. the business they were really in), was not soft drink production but logistics and distribution networks.

The Coca-Cola company trains and provides transportation to networks of local entrepreneurs in order to get the soft drink to the far reaches of the world. Coca-Cola is delivered by a variety of carts, bikes and on foot to rural areas.

One in every five children die before their fifth birthday from simple causes such as dehydration through diarrhea. If aid agencies could tap into, or learn from Coca-Cola’s distribution networks it would make a huge difference to the lives of children in Africa.

So one solution is for aid agencies to replicate Coca-Cola’s distribution model and develop their own local networks of trained and equipped entrepreneurs. Good idea.

But Colalife have taken this a step further, they are negotiating with Coca-Cola and the local entrepreneurs who distribute the drink to see how they can use their deliveries to get life saving medicines to the children that need it. ColaLife are now piloting this model in Zambia. You can read more on the ColaLife blog or their Facebook page.

When was the last time you were inspired by a business outside your ‘normal’ remit?

If you want to read more;

Where Good Ideas Come From Stephen Johnson

SOFII – The Showcase of Fundraising Innovation and Inspiration

Sticky Wisdom? What If! The Innovation Company

Innovation Matters NCVO



Dare to do and notice more

I love living in London.  Even though the tube is dirty and crowded, people don’t talk to each other, its expensive, grubby and the transport system is so ineffective that all it takes is a few snowflakes to bring the entire city to a halt.

I still love it though. There is so much to do. It’s a hub of inspiration if you just take time to explore and notice more.

A few weeks ago I went to The Wellcome Collection High Society. All about drugs. High Society examines the history of drugs from their plant origins, their use as medicines and to today’s international drugs market estimated by the UN to be worth £200 billion a year.

It’s fascinating that very few people live their lives without using some form of mood altering substance, whether its gin, cocaine or a cup of coffee. Drugs are used across the world for recreation, religious, medical, scientific experimental reasons or just pure entertainment. They offer an escape from daily life or an enhanced understanding of what it means to be human. Many are addictive. What is an addiction though? A failure of willpower, a physical disease or a coping strategy for problems beyond the individual’s control?

The perceived wisdom about drugs varies from culture to culture; a Religious sacrament in one culture can be a public health problem in another. There is a close link between social interaction and use of drugs, the fundamental dynamic of a group interacting with a behaviour altering substance draws many parallels, for example a social glass of wine after work, to more formal group rituals as explored in Tribe.

Although most drugs, rightly or wrongly are tested on animals, drugs that alter your consciousness can only be fully described by human subjects and its intriguing that we are still unable to explain why each persons experience is so different.

Our perception of drugs over time have also changed. Opium originated in central Europe and for centuries was the most effective painkiller and main ingredient in many patented medicines. Even compare smoking adverts and health warnings from the 1950s compared to now, the difference is staggering. Santa was a smoker!

The Wellcome Collection is a fascinating place, with a great coffee shop for the caffeine addicts amongst us.

The subject of drugs and addiction is out of my normal frame of reference, discounting drinking too much wine on a weekend. But that was the whole point in going. I don’t know yet what connections this new experience will influence. But I do know that if you want to have good ideas you have to open yourself to more experiences, break existing patterns and dare to notice more.

We know that good ideas come from a series of connections, or hunches over time that combine in new ways. So whether you take drugs to feel, see and notice more or not, I challenge you to make the most of what your environment has to offer. I dare you to get out there and start noticing more today.

If you are interested in how to do and notice more check out the links below

Steven Johnson Where good ideas come from

What If!? Sticky Wisdom

Time Out Guides

Le Cool

Lonely Planet – seize the day

Change your Facebook profile picture to a cartoon and help protect children. How does that work then?

I’m fascinated by people’s behavior generally. One of my favorite pastimes is people watching and now I can people-watch online from the comfort of my sofa.

Last weekend I was watching the NSPCC trending on Twitter because people were changing their Facebook profiles to cartoon characters.

Friends were getting all nostalgic from the likes of Captain Caveman to Donald Duck to Barney Rubble. According to the LA Times, nearly every of the 20 most actively searched terms on Google were to do with ‘old cartoons’ on Saturday morning. That’s pretty big.

The chain message going round Facebook was:

Change your Facebook profile picture to a cartoon character from your childhood and invite your friends to do the same, for the NSPCC. Until Monday (December 6th), there should be no human faces on Facebook, but an invasion of memories. This is a campaign to stop violence against children.

It was only when a few sceptics started to point out that just changing your status profile wont really help children, and started to suggest that people made a donation that the validity of the campaign was questioned.

As time progressed more messages appeared about it being a ‘scam’ set up by pedophiles. This was followed by messages to remove your cartoon profile urgently or you would get ‘kicked off’ Facebook!

According to the trend-tracking website Know Your Meme, the cartoon fad started with Facebook users in Greece and Cyprus in mid-November.

I’m a bit bemused by the whole thing, whilst I can appreciate that thinking about your childhood may connect you to the cause;  how it helps protect children is pretty tentative by any stretch of the imagination. There was no call to action or a link to a donation page. Sadly it meant that lots of people just thought they had done something good. When they hadn’t really.

There is an argument that all publicity is good publicity, and anything that raises awareness of a cause and encourages people to help in any way is good. But I worry how it is that people feel they have ‘done their bit’ by just changing their avatar to Touché Turtle.

Cartoon Weekend wasn’t a NSPCC campaign but apparently the NSPCC increased fans on Facebook to over 100,000 as a result, which is no bad thing as now the charity can communicate with those good willed cartoon lovers and ask them how they really might like to help. The results of that conversion would be interesting.

What really interests me is why this campaign went so viral. Did thinking about childhood spark some nostalgia? Was it because it was so easy? Is there so much online peer pressure on Facebook that people just did it to fit in? Was it the link to a good cause that made people feel like they were part of something important?

There is a lot of research into the psychology of group behaviour and the dynamics that social network sites create. Please can an expert do some analysis into Cartoon Weekend as I think it could show up some fascinating trends and behaviours that could help charities generate support in the future.

I recently read Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky which is about behaviours in online groups and networks. I wonder what he has to say about Cartoon Weekend?

The views in this blog are my own and do not represent the organisation I work for.