Creativity and originality: how original are “new” innovative ideas?

One of the questions I am posed at my workshops is, how truly original are the ideas being created at these sessions? After all, to break new ground and be innovative, there must be a “new” element in these ideas, something (hopefully) no one has thought of before.

Let me surprise you: new ideas are also copied ideas.

Yup, you heard me right. New ideas are not 100% “new” as we think of the term, but “borrowed” from something else. But there is a key difference between the first idea, and the new idea that borrowed from it: it gets modified in the new idea. Let me explain.

There are basically 3 stages involved when solving a business issue with a new idea. The first stage is to define what the issue really is. Usually the issue is not as straightforward as it may appear.

For example, a company may need to find new ways to recruit staff. But is that really the issue at heart? I would recommend using “5 Whys“: Ask why there is such an issue, and with the answer, ask “why” again. Do this up to 5 times in a row to get to the heart of the issue. Each time you ask, you get to another level of the issue, and soon you get to see the bigger picture. Once you extrapolate the real issue, you step into the next stage.

Using the same example:
“Why” find new ways to recruit staff? Because current ways don’t attract the right candidate.
“Why”? Because hired staff don’t stay for long.
“Why”? They find the office environment a bore.
“Why”? Because hired staff are Gen Y and need more stimulation.
Finally, “why”? Because the office needs restructuring to attract such workers.

There you go: the real issue may turn out to be the office restructuring rather than simply new ways to hire staff. Solve the former and you may automatically solve the latter too.

The next stage: create the new ideas. This is where “new” ideas are actually “copied” or borrowed from somewhere else, using various creative thinking tools. But as I explained to organisations, these ideas are the CONCEPTS, and the “new” is when they modify them to suit their organisational issue.

This brings us to the third stage: to create new possibilities from these concepts created. This is where the “new” and “original” sets in: the idea or concept is being modified and transformed into something new. It can be used to enhance something already present, or be something totally new. Back to the example above: if office restructuring is the issue, and the idea (concept) created could be about looking like Google’s office, then the modified idea could look something like this.

To use another example: the present day roll-on deodorant, took its form from another idea or concept: the ballpoint pen. The concept is the rollerball used in the ballpoint pen. But this idea was “copied” into the deodorant in the early 1950s, enabling it to be used more easily under the armpits.

So to answer the question: are innovative ideas truly new ones? The answer is YES. Its all about how you go about transforming what is already out there, into something new no one has thought of before.

Have fun creating!

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