Innovation Killer: Attack of the Clones

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Man holding a bomb in his hand

You want to know who’s really bad at coming up with innovative ideas? Clones. Also goldfish, but for now let’s stick to clones. Why are clones so bad at coming up with innovative ideas? Because they all think alike! They can’t help it—they’re clones!

It stands to reason then, that if you’re looking for an innovative solution to a business challenge, the last thing you’d want working on the challenge is a team of clones, right?

And yet that’s exactly what most businesses do.

Most businesses, when looking for innovative ideas, round up (to quote Casablanca) “the usual suspects.” Who are the usual suspects? The corporate management team, for one. Actually, we can stop there. Because most businesses stop there. They call a management meeting, say something like “We need to brainstorm,” and then get pretty much the same ideas they always get. Why? Because these managers all think pretty much the same. They’re clones.

“Now wait just a minute, Bill,” you protest. “Fred here is from Accounting, while Cheryl is from Facilities. They’re completely different!”

Right. You’re really stretching the envelope there, Sparky. Yes, Cheryl and Fred work in different departments; on the other hand, they’re both middle managers, working in the same industry, at the same level, for the same company.

And you wonder why you’re not getting breakthrough ideas.

Why You Don’t Need An Aerospace Engineer

In my friend Stephen Shapiro’s must-read book, Best Practices Are Stupid: 40 Ways to Out-Innovate the Competition, he says:

[quote]If you are NASA and you have 100 aerospace engineers working on an aerospace engineering challenge, adding the 101st aerospace engineer may not help that much. But adding a physicist, a nanotechnologist, a chemist, a biologist, or even a musician may move your solutions in a completely new direction.[/quote]

Why You DO Need An Aerospace Engineer

Now, what happens if you add an aerospace engineer to, say, a comedy TV show? (Some of you longtime readers know where this is going.) And what if, say, a scheduled guest on that comedy TV show cancels at the last minute? Well, hypothetically, you’d gather all the comedy writers together and try to brainstorm an idea that would fill that slot. And you’d probably get some pretty funny ideas.

But what if this hypothetical aerospace engineer suddenly popped up and said, “I might be able to do something with liquid nitrogen”?

Whoa! Where did that come from? None of the traditional comedy writers came up with that! And if, instead of adding an aerospace engineer to the show, you had just added another comedy writer (a “clone,” albeit a very funny one), the idea of liquid nitrogen would have never occurred.

And there would be no Bill Nye the Science Guy.

motivational speaker Bill StaintonBecause this story is not hypothetical. It happened while I was the Executive Producer of a comedy show called Almost Live! And Bill Nye—who actually was an aerospace engineer (he designed things for Boeing that people like you and me are not allowed to know about)—became “the Science Guy” on that show, that night, by doing hilarious things with liquid nitrogen.

Things that none of the rest of us would have come up with.

As Stephen Shapiro says, “Sometimes the best solutions come from outside your area of expertise and beyond the four walls of your organization.”

If you’re a comedy show, and you really want an innovative idea, ask an aerospace engineer. And if you’re an aerospace company looking for a breakthrough, maybe you should ask a comedy writer.


About the Author:

29-time Emmy Award winner and Hall of Fame keynote speaker Bill Stainton, CSP is an expert on Innovation, Creativity, and Breakthrough Thinking. He helps leaders and their teams come up with innovative solutions — on demand — to their most challenging problems.
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