- Inspired Innovators
We all have heroes, from Muhammad Ali to Neil Young to Nelson Mandela; these are people that we admire for their achievements, abilities and charisma.
There are heroes for creativity and innovation as well. We all think of the great inventors like Edison or scientists like Einstein but we have found many heroes among our clients. They are people who take a high degree of professional risk as they champion new ideas within an organization. People who swim against the corporate tide because they know that change is needed. People who go against the common wisdom and achieve spectacular success or spectacular failure.
These are some of our heroes and the reasons why. We have left plenty of room to add more because heroic journeys start every day in a thousand different places.
The most widely known story about Archimedes tells of how he invented a method for determining the volume of an object with an irregular shape. A crown in the shape of a laurel wreath had been made for King Hiero II, and Archimedes was asked to determine whether it was of solid gold, or whether silver had been added by a questionable goldsmith. Archimedes had to solve the problem without damaging the crown, so he could not melt it down to calculate its density. While taking a bath, he noticed that the level of the water in the tub rose as he got in, and realized that this effect could be used to determine the volume of the crown. Therefore submerging the crown would displace an amount of water equal to its own volume. By dividing the weight of the crown by the volume of water displaced, the density of the crown could be obtained. This density would be lower than that of gold if cheaper and less dense metals had been added. Archimedes then took to the streets naked, so excited by his discovery that he had forgotten to dress, crying “Eureka!” or the Grecian, “εὕρηκα!” (meaning “I have found it!”) A fable or fact, we will never really know due to when this was to have happened (around 270 B.C.); however, the mere thought of making connections in this manner to truly invent shows the power of the absurd at work. If we look at Archimedes’ life’s work, there are several inventions which started out as a connection to something much smaller and less complex.
Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci was an Italian polymath, scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, painter, sculptor, architect, botanist, musician and writer. Leonardo has often been described as the archetype of the Renaissance man, a man whose unquenchable curiosity was equaled only by his powers of invention. He is widely considered to be one of the greatest painters of all time and perhaps the most diversely talented person ever to have lived. His thinking processes have been credited in the creation and evolution of the Synectics body of knowledge piece known as the excursion.
“Every now and then go away, have a little relaxation, for when you come back to your work your judgment will be surer since to remain constantly at work will cause you to lose power of judgment.”
George de Mestral
George de Mestral who lived in Commugny, Switzerland, invented the hook-loop fastener in 1941. The idea came to him one day after returning from a hunting trip with his dog in the Alps. He took a close look at the burrs that kept sticking to his wool pants and his dog’s fur. He examined them under a microscope, and noted their hundreds of “hooks” that caught on anything with a loop, such as clothing, animal fur, or hair. He immediately made the connection of binding two materials reversibly in a simple fashion, if he could figure out how to duplicate the hooks and loops. Lyon, the center of weaving for the times, refused to take him and his idea seriously. He did manage to gain the help of one weaver, who made two cotton strips that worked. However the cotton wore out quickly, so de Mestral turned to synthetic fibers. He settled on nylon as being the best synthetic, Nylon, which had several advantages. Nylon had only recently been invented, and through trial and error he eventually discovered that, when sewn under hot infrared light, nylon forms hooks that were perfect for the hook side of the fastener—the issue was mechanizing the process of making the fasteners. On the verge of giving up, a new idea came to him. He bought a pair of shears and trimmed the tops off the loops, thus creating hooks that would match up perfectly with the loops. Mestral offers us a few connections to the Synecticsworld body of knowledge: keep looking for the plusses in an idea and build off of them to overcome the issues; there is an innovation path, known as the The Dark Night of the Innovator that may tend to wear you down—don’t give up as you are just a connection away from success at any point; and lastly, a key tenet is to involve others to help you think differently about your problem-without the one weaver offering an idea, he would have never been able to succeed.
Art Fry, from 3M, invented the Post-It Note using an adhesive developed by a colleague, Spencer Silver many years prior. Scientist Spencer Silver along with Jesse Kops, both scientists at 3M, accidentally developed a low-tack adhesive which would stick quite nicely when small amounts of pressure were applied to it. For years, Dr. Silver promoted his invention within 3M, both informally and through seminars, but without much success. Then In 1974, Fry, who had attended one of Silver’s seminars, came up with the idea of using the adhesive to anchor his bookmark in his hymnbook. Fry then developed the idea by taking advantage of 3M’s officially sanctioned policies of using other research and development to create your own invention—or bootlegging. This is one of the greatest examples of taking a failed idea in business and turning into something that is useful and marketable using a developmental thinking process.
Lionel Alexander Bethune Pilkington
Lionel Alexander Bethune Pilkington also known as Sir Alistair Pilkington (knighted in 1970), invented the process of making plate glass. Between 1953 and 1957, Sir Alastair Pilkington and Kenneth Bickerstaff of the UK’s Pilkington Brothers (of no relation) developed the first successful commercial application for forming a continuous ribbon of glass using a molten tin bath on which the molten glass flows unhindered under the influence of gravity. The success of this process lay in the careful balance of the volume of glass fed onto the bath, where it was flattened by its own weight. The spark for this idea is to have come from Pilkington seeing how grease, when washing dishes, floats in a uniform film in the sink. Pilkington thus made a connection with this image and thus created the float glass technique. The power of connection making can be used with anything and everything around us to spark ideas and thoughts in the creative process.