How often do you get to hang out with a true life rocket scientist that worked at NASA?
Mark Fox was telling me about the time he worked on the Space Shuttle Columbia and how he was asked for his input on how to make space flight safer. Thinking deeply, he said, “Well, one of the problems we had was that panels were coming away for the craft. Let’s cover the rocket in a thin film of plastic”.
Just to put this into perspective Mark was the youngest scientist to work for NASA and he was talking to a senior scientist. The senior remarked “interesting idea, where did you get the idea from?”
Mark replied “Well you know when you buy a new CD and it is covered in shrink wrap plastic that’s so hard to get off?”
“Yes” said the senior.
“From there” concluded Mark.
Connecting the impossible to the possible
Mark often sees connections in business that creates transformation. Your brain, like Mark’s, is designed to create and see patterns.
You may be familiar with the left and right brain hemisphere theory which is based on the work by Dr Roger Sperry who won a Noble Prize in Physiology for his insights.
The Left-brain is logical, factual, likes numbers and reducing things down.
The Right-brain is about pattern hunting, meaning, creativity, imagination and the wide panoramic picture.
Another word for pattern hunting is intuition. Mark takes this natural ability we all have and plays with creativity to make new connections.
Your brain makes connections when you play
Mark loves new information and seems to be fascinated with life around him. He asks lots of questions and plays with new information whenever he can. When I asked him about this he said, “If you have no new information, for your brain to play with, you tend to have the same ideas”. This made great sense to me.
“But how do you do this?” I asked Mark, as I dropped him off at the airport.
The airport connection
Mark taught me a little trick for stimulating new ideas. He said “next time you are at an airport, pick up a book on a subject you know nothing about and read it”. As an example he told me he had recently read books on the unfamiliar topics of fly fishing and fashion design.
Putting two different things together to create a single runaway success
The Reebok Pump athletic shoe that was popular in the early 1990s is an example of a design that comprised two quite different component parts that were brought together to create a runaway success. Reebok was trying to come up with a new product line and took the radical step of looking completely outside their industry for inspiration. In their search for innovation they explored the medical industry and stumbled upon the concept of the Intravenous (IV) Bag.
Intrigued by the function and possibility of the IV bag, they inserted one into the sole of the shoe and they called their new creation The Pump Shoe. The prototype and the first shoes off the production line were actually made using IV bags, just like the ones you’d find in any hospital. Of course The Pump Shoe has since been modified to contain a unique inflation cushion, but the origins of the creative concept remain rooted in a product that was already in existence and one that was used for an entirely different purpose.
The inventor of The Reebok Pump, Paul Litchfield is acknowledged as an innovator.
Are you ready to create innovation in your industry?
Mark Fox went on to write a fascinating book called “Da Vinci and the 40 Answers – A Playbook for Creativity and Fresh Ideas” which I whole-heartedly recommend. His book explains in detail that the key to generating new ideas is to expose yourself to new ideas and that one way to do this would be to read books on subjects you know nothing about.
“Are you serious?” the senior scientist said to Mark’s idea about the shrink plastic film. You are likely to come across reactions similar to this when you come up with something new and innovative that seems impossible on the surface. I am sure that Paul Litchfield had just the same type of reaction.
What crazy connections can you come up with that would revolutionise your business? Can you think outside the box or escape the cage?
What other great connections have you noticed? Post them below and let’s see what magical part of Wonderland this rabbit hole takes us.
“Every man with a new idea is a crank until the idea succeeds.”- Mark Twain.