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May 22, 2015

I Wish I'd Thought of That!

Keith Jackson

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Some people are remarkably practical and "hands on." They see a problem and, after a little bit of thought, ably set about solving it. Probably with a hammer, a spirit level and a justified sense of confidence in their manual prowess.

Other people are more creative or unconventional in their thinking. They don't focus on a specific issue that needs resolving. They seem to pull a brand new idea or concept out of thin air. They can think of things that people want even before those people know that they want it. Like the iPad®.

The logical, analytical, methodical, and linear-thinking folk are said to be "left brain" people, while "right brain" people are believed to be more intuitive, creative, emotional, and "daydreamy." A neuroscientist would no doubt debunk all that as a lot of hokum – well, you'd expect that of those left brain types –  but the arty right brainers would defend the concept to the last beat of their tambourines.

My late grandfather must have had a very large "noggin," as he seemed to possess equally impressive amounts of both left and right brain characteristics. He was creative enough to conjure up clever new inventions, and also had the patience and skill to fashion working models and prototypes. Well, the jury is out on whether some of his contraptions actually worked.

I can remember my grandmother trying her best to describe two of the inventions he was most serious about: a system of interlocking roof tiles (he was a house builder by trade), and an expandable suitcase.

Trying to perfect the expandable suitcase vexed him. He was convinced the traveller of the day needed a suitcase that had additional compartments that he or she could pull out from the sides if more packing space was required. And he gave short shrift to anyone suggesting the options of simply using a bigger suitcase, or using two suitcases.

Bear in mind that he was working away in his garage/workshop in the 1930s, so he was working with leather, canvas and metal, rather than modern lightweight plastics and nylon. The result of his many hours of labor was a suitcase that could indeed expand as required, but was unusable, as its hinges and levers actually took up most of the room in it!

He ought to have enjoyed genuine commercial success with his innovative, unique design for roof tiles. At the time, his roofers spent a great of time and effort nailing tiles to roof timbers. He suddenly had the idea for a tile with curved sides, rather than straight ones, so each would "spoon" snugly into the corresponding curve of its neighbor. The interlocking tiles would then form a strong, rigid line with each supporting the other.

There was real interest in his design, and he began to secure a patent. But while he was preparing to put his invention into production, the clouds of conflict were gathering over Europe. As Britain was placed on a war footing, he and thousands of other builders across the country were tasked with constructing air raid shelters and other defences. His plans for the roof tiles were shelved and, after the long years of the Second World War, he didn't revisit them.

Not all good ideas come to fruition. And maybe a few bad ones do! But you shouldn't stifle creativity. Neither should you restrict your search for ideas and solutions to your immediate colleagues or team.

Great ideas and innovative solutions can pop up from the most unlikely of sources, or be born from the most outlandish of brainstorming suggestions. And always remember that you are ultimately looking to fulfil the wants and needs of your customers or users. That is what underpins the concept of "design thinking." Our article explains how you can implement it to find your "Eureka!" moment.

What's the most unconventional method you have ever used to solve a problem? Join the discussion, below!

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2 comments on “I Wish I'd Thought of That!”

  1. I'm not sure how unconventional it really is but people don't do it often enough: Bringing in someone who has zero knowledge of the problem or even the thing that has the problem. They tend to ask elementary questions which lead to basic solutions which are less complicated than those who have expertise in the matter. Ask a kindergartener!

    1. Great point Mary! Sometimes our "knowledge" holds us back from seeing the problem as it is. Instead, we see it as we think it is and we try and base a solution on that. Thanks for reminding us about this great technique.

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Our massive Black Friday sale continues in the Mind Tools store! Save 50% on all resources until December 8.
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