‘Originality is nothing but judicious imitation’
This is one of my favourite quotes as it encapsulates how the creative process works. Essentially, generating new ideas is all about voyeurism and theft – searching for existing ideas and then adapting them to create something new. But where do you look for inspiration and who do you steal from?
1 Look Backwards
Another great quote
‘He who cannot draw on 3 000 years is living from hand to mouth’
The most obvious start point it to learn from the past. You can do this in lots of ways
(a) Study and imitate your heroes. This is what all great musicians, artists, writers, fashion designers, film directors always do. Read any biography and you’ll see that they started out studying and copying the past masters. The Beatles were inspired by Elvis and Little Richard. Picasso was inspired by Cezanne.
(b) Study successful product and service ideas from the past and try to update them for a modern age. For example the Sony Walkman was invented in 1979 and become the template for the iPod which was launched in 2001. Wikipedia replicated the need for encyclopaedias. Go to London’s Design Museum if you get the chance. It’s a great source of inspiration.
2 Look Forwards
This means being sensitive to what’s new and emergent, so you can catch the latest trends and be ahead of the curve. So how to do you do this?
(a) Talk to people who you consider to be influential and experts in their field and seek their opinion e.g. technology experts, scientists, journalists
(b) Observe what’s happening in ‘leading edge’ cultures e.g. fashionable districts of cities, music venues, art galleries
(c) Read avidly. There’s so much published nowadays from trend spotting websites, magazines and blogs that collate and proffer opinion on what’s new and interesting. Popular sites are trendwatching and springwise.
This way you’ll be able to keep fresh and current in your idea generation.
3 Look Sideways
This means reviewing and learning from what’s happening in adjacent categories or different worlds. You can do this in lots of ways. For example:
(a) review a category / business / brand that is dealing with a similar problem to yours and observe how they’ve dealt with it. For example, if your issue is ‘improving customer service’ learn from how other people have done it well. Zappo’s would be great place to start. If your task is appealing to a specific target audience, review how other brands in completely different categories target them successfully.
(b) steal from a very different category or world and adapt it to your own. For example personal care brand Lush, learnt how to present their soap and personal care products by learning from fresh food deli counters.
(c) observe and adapt ideas from different cultures. Restaurants, food writers and food brands do this all time, by mixing and matching ingredients and recipes from different cuisines. (I’d love to try a cronut).Interior designers do this by adding style cues from other cultures.
(d) go back to nature. Take inspiration from the natural world, which has often worked out how to solve problems. For example in 1948 velcro was invented when a mountaineer on a walk observed how burrs from plants stuck to the fur of his dog.
Ideas are everywhere. You’ve just got to know where look for them.