There’s a good chance that the coronavirus — COVID-19 — is disrupting your business and your life. It’s certainly disrupting mine. As a keynote speaker on innovation, I work in the meetings industry. In other words, I work in an industry that is predicated on large numbers of people gathering together in a single place. And we all know how that’s going right now.
The disruption might be different in your world. Perhaps you’ve been affected by supply chain issues. If that final part you need to assemble your amazing product comes from China, you may be out of luck for the time being. And, depending on how big a hit the economy takes, most of us will be feeling some sort of financial impact, if we haven’t already.
And none of this is new.
Oh, COVID-19 is new. But the idea of some outside force coming along, seemingly out of nowhere, and totally disrupting the status quo is as old as time itself. (Just ask the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.)
And when that happens — when the status quo no longer works — we have to be able to come up with a Plan B. And that requires innovation.
But here’s the challenge with that. Most people don’t know how to innovate. They don’t know how to come up with a creative idea — on demand.
Fortunately, you and I are friends, and I have some expertise in the area of innovation. So let me give you a quick tip on where and how to find those innovative ideas that can help you navigate this new reality, no matter how temporary or long-lasting it may be.
First, you have to realize that innovative ideas come from connecting dots: finding connections between two or more seemingly unrelated things. Here’s a way you can start connecting dots right now:
Simply ask the question, “Who else has solved a similar issue?”
Now, some of you will immediately start thinking about your colleagues, your competitors, and others in your industry. I want you to stretch your thinking. I want you to look outside your industry. Maybe even way outside.
I’ll give you an example.
Some years ago, Swiss truck drivers who deliver fuel were facing a challenge. They needed to find the shortest route between fuel stops in the Alps. Due to a number of variables, this challenge was much more difficult than it may at first seem. So, after trying dozens and dozens of approaches, some smartypants innovator within the industry asked the magic question: “Who else has solved a similar issue?” And do you know who he turned to?
That’s right. It turns out that, through millions of years of evolution, ants have devised an ingenious method of finding the shortest route to a food source (it involves pheromones). So now, the Swiss trucking industry uses software that mimics the foraging behavior of ants.
I’m not saying that the answers to your challenges lie in the insect world. But I’m not saying they don’t. What I am saying is that, whatever your challenge, some entity has faced, and solved, a similar one. Your job is to find that entity, discover how they solved the challenge, and then apply it to your own situation.
Ask the question: “Who else has solved a similar issue?”
That’s what innovators do. That’s what breakthrough thinkers do.
And that’s what you can do too.