Where do successful ideas come from?

They can be the result of a spark of inspiration or the result of a lengthy and focused development programme.
The "any-way-up" toddlers' drinking cup was derived as a result of a housewife and mother seeking a solution to the problem of spillage from traditional toddlers' training cups. By creating a cup with a one way valve that allows liquid only to be sucked out a highly successful product was created. The Black and Decker Quattro is a rechargeable power tool onto which drill, saw and sanding attachments can be fitted. It was developed by a team of designers and engineers at Black and Decker.

Lateral Thinking

It's not possible to teach someone how to have inspirational ideas but it is possible to discuss how to use the mind more creatively by using lateral thinking. The principles of lateral thinking fall into four broad areas.

Recognising that you may already have preconceived ideas.

In thinking about a situation it is quite usual for you to have fixed ideas about the solution. Eg. A chair should have four legs, a book-shelf horizontal surfaces. The more complex a situation the more likely this is and anything that goes against this may seem wrong somehow even if it is a potential solution.

Looking at things differently.

Instead of asking yourself "why?" ask yourself "why not?". This is the classic definition of lateral thinking but there are hundreds of incidents throughout history of breakthroughs that have been made by people looking at things differently. The smallpox vaccine was discovered when Edward Jenner turned his attention from looking at why people contracted smallpox to looking at why dairy maids apparently did not. He worked out the exposure to the lesser form of cowpox was giving immunity, and made the crucial breakthrough.

Escaping from vertical logic

Vertical thinking relies upon each step in the thought process being sound.
But a good solution remains a good solution regardless of how it has come about. Patent offices once refused applications for flying machines on the grounds that it was impossible for a machine that was heavier than air to fly. Applying vertical logic implies that we know all that there is to know already.

Using chance

This is perhaps the most difficult technique to apply because you can't make things happen by chance. You can, however, allow chance to play a part.
Penicillin, x-rays, vulcanisation of rubber were all developed by chance events.

Technology Push/Consumer Pull

In the 1950's the development of the transistor led to a host of electronic products (such as radios and televisions) being developed that were many times smaller than had previously been possible. These products were seen as technological marvels at first but soon consumers began to expect products to become smaller, lighter and more portable. The "consumer pull" led to manufacturers trying to develop the technology further. The result was the microchip which compressed thousands of transistors onto a tiny silicon wafer. One of the applications for this technology was in computers and so, what had previously been a machine the size of a room was now a box that could be hooked up to a cassette player and a television. The personal computer boom started in the 1980's and again it was consumers who demanded smaller, faster more powerful computers. We are in the middle of the next technological wave with digital. This is a technology push in as much as the technology is not really understood by the consumer yet we are being constantly bombarded with "digital" products. As soon as the benefits and opportunities are understood, the next generation of products will be "pulled" by the consumer.

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