Everything is connected

Everything is connected - image for article by Greg Alder

Today we’re going on a journey. We’re riding the innovation express. We’ll be travelling through time and crisscrossing the world.

We start our travels in ancient Greece, 2600 years ago. A shepherd tends his flock on a hillside. He notices something odd. The rocks beneath his feet seem to attract the nails in his sandals.

Now we’re in Florence. The year is 1505. Leonardo da Vinci’s study of birds culminates in the publication of the Codex of Flight. He is especially interested in the aerodynamics of wings and applies the principles to drawings of mechanical flying machines.

Next stop is London. It’s 1680 and Frenchman Denis Pepin is introducing his steam digester to the Royal Society. It’s the predecessor to today’s pressure cooker.

From here we jump to February 21, 1804. A steam locomotive hauls a train along the tramway at the Penydarren Ironworks in Wales.

Fifty years later and across the English Channel, Étienne Lenoir introduces the gasoline-powered internal combustion engine.

In 1879, Thomas Edison bakes cotton threads at high temperature, creating a carbon fibre filament.

That same year at the Berlin Trade Fair, Werner von Siemens takes visitors on a ride on the first electric railway, with power supplied through the rails.

In 1903, Orville Wright flies a fixed wing aircraft near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. This is not only the first flight by a heavier-than-air aircraft, but the first time an aluminium internal combustion engine is used in a plane.

It mightn’t be obvious, but each of these discoveries is connected to the others.

They’re connected in another recent innovation, the high speed train.

The ancient Greek shepherd had discovered lodestone containing magnetite, a natural magnetic material. Magnets would eventually be used by the Chinese in compasses. And they would later be used to provide levitation.

Denis Pepin’s invention was turned into a steam engine. Richard Trevithick put wheels on it and tracks under it to invent the steam train.

Werner von Siemens swapped steam power for electricity (an innovation originally applied to lighting).

The aerodynamics studied by da Vinci and applied by the Wright Brothers were refined into the ailerons of modern planes. The same principle was borrowed by the car racing industry. Wings on Formula 1 race cars apply downward pressure on the wheels to improve handling.

Aluminium and carbon fibre made their way from airplane bodies to car bodies, for the same reasons – to reduce weight and improve strength.

The modern high speed train travels on a track, but levitates above it using magnetism. The shape on the train is based on aerodynamic principles from plane design.

Every one of the discoveries and inventions named here has led to innovations in a host of unrelated fields.

Just as every new idea is an amalgamation of two existing ideas, every innovation has two or more unrelated parents.

Innovation begets innovation.

If you are looking to innovate in your chosen field, the ideas you need likely exist in another field.

Industrial Roundabout is a simple idea generation technique that will help you innovate in your field.

Randomly choose an industry. Examine what it makes. Examine how it’s made, how it’s used, what it’s made from and what shape it is. Then let yourself be inspired by each of these to innovate in your sector.

An example? Take scissor manufacturing.

What do we know about scissors?

  • They’re made of stainless steel
  • They are sometimes coated in titanium
  • They have ergonomic grips
  • They can be sold in blister packs
  • They’re displayed on racks
  • They are sold in craft and hardware stores and supermarkets
  • They have multiple uses – cutting paper, fabric, hair and branches
  • They are used to cut material into smaller pieces, style hair and prune branches

Now, how can you innovate using this information?

  • Can you change the core material your product is made from?
  • Give it more ergonomic design (or improve the user interface)?
  •  Change how your products or services are packaged?
  • Create an off-the-rack retail product?
  • Create a multipurpose product?
  • Cut your core service into modules?
  • Create a simple version by trimming non-essential features?

Scissors are likely unconnected with your business. But they are connected through innovation.

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