In The Age of Ideas…where are all the ideas?

Original post here on Linked In

We are in The Age of Ideas.

On 7 December 2015, Malcolm Turnbull revealed his $1.1 billion innovation package, intended to inspire a shift towards a “culture of ideas”.

So where are all the ideas?

The answer is:

Not where you think.

Organisations must look outside their own teams, industry – and own country (yes – even if you position yourself as a domestic player) – to find solutions to long unsolved problems.

We know that cognitive diversity yields the most innovative ideas.

That means lateral – not linear – thinking.

Wharton management professor, Adam Grant, author of “Originals: How nonconformists move the world”, researched the surprising habits of original thinkers.

Grant found that the more diverse a person’s interests were, the more likely they were to make links between unrelated domains – and reveal an original thought.

My favourite example was of Galileo.

Galileo wasn’t the first astronomer to see mountains on the moon:

He was simply the first to identify them as such.

Unlike his peers, Galileo wasn’t just a scientist – he was also an artist.

He had a passion for drawing – and was therefore proficient in the art of shading.

This knowledge enabled him to draw the unconventional link between the seemingly unrelated domains of science and art. Galileo saw that the black spots on the moon were in fact shadows – likely caused by an increase in elevation, signalling the presence of mountains.

This isn’t an isolated example.

You might ask: What can the snack food industry learn from… bones?

A lot, is the answer.

The R&D department of PepsiCola was charged with finding a solution to this problem:

Cut the sodium content of potato chips – but maintain the salty taste.

After looking internally – in their own labs and the labs of others in the same industry – they eschewed linear thinking for lateral thinking and looked externally. The answer was in a lab studying osteoporosis.

The bone researchers found a way to create very small particles of a low-sodium, salt-like substance, by smashing calcium (not sodium) into tiny particles and re-growing it.

In this case, the problem was reframed from being:

“Find a way to reduce the amount of sodium in its potato chips without reducing the salty flavor that customers love.”


PepsiCo [is] seeking new formulation technologies for creating nano and micro-sized particles, suspending for transportation, and application and drying techniques for halide salts.

The second framing doesn’t limit the problem to “potato chips” or indeed the food industry – there isn’t a mention of what the nano-sized particles were to be used for.

The result?

It invited solutions from lateral thinkers.

The problem framed in a broader way attracted minds from energy and fuels, pharma and engineering – not just the snack food industry.

Companies need to adapt to keep up in a rapidly changing environment. With technology and information at our fingertips, doing what worked before is no longer enough to solve new problems. Track record needs to be augmented with original thinking.

To achieve this, leaders and organisations must harness the power of external ideas.

Common ways to find new ideas include:

  1. Cross-industry collaboration – for example look at the work of the SW/TCH Festival which aims to foster innovation between industries as diverse as banking (ANZ) and nutrition (Blackmores);
  2. Crowd-sourced idea generation – leveraging diverse contributors from the internet to build on ideas in unconventional ways like Ideapod, a marketplace exclusively for ideas; and
  3. Open innovation – utilising campaign partners like Ideapod or InnoCentive.

Ideapod is the social network for idea sharing. We leverage the collective intelligence of our cross-disciplinary community to solve really hard problems for governments, corporations and organisations.

Contact Kat Dunn or Justin Brown for more information on how your organisation can approach solving a really hard problem, find new ideas and access nearly 40,000 thinkers globally.

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