Jan 11, 2012 • By

The question every innovator should ask

The road to a good idea, no matter what line of work or activity you are in, doesn’t have to be a long and difficult journey. Most of the time, the best ideas are collected, borrowed and adapted.

That was the theme I took away from a presentation this morning by “IdeaWise” author Steve Rivkin to a packed auditorium of General Mills marketers, people whose jobs involve innovation and ideation on a daily basis on behalf of our many brands.

“The best ideas, I believe, are combinations of ideas in which you take and tweak and twist and make uniquely your own, something you have found along the way,” Rivkin said.

And then, he said, you don’t stop there.

You ask a critical question:

“What else could it be?”

Rivkin, quoting Thomas Edison, said innovators should “make it a habit to be on the lookout for novel and interesting ideas that others have used successfully,” and the final idea “needs to be original only in its adaptation to the problem you are working on.”

With that as the backdrop, Rivkin cited several trends in borrowed and adapted ideas. Like the branded business offices now in major hotels and some branded restaurants in hospitals, tuna that’s packaged in pouches instead of cans, and Listerine mouthwash in an oral care strip.

He also said combinations of products can be great adapted ideas. He mentioned the Band-Aid with antibiotics as one example, which came from looking at innovation from the point of view of the customer and understanding patterns of behavior when a Band-Aid is needed.

Rivkin also gave the Fiber One team kudos for the idea behind its “Magic Brownie” video with Cheech and Chong and for choosing to distribute it online instead of on television.

“This is … clever ideation,” he said. “You’ve brought something back – these artifacts of our pop culture – and you said what else could it be?”

Rivkin also talked about the importance of collecting ideas everywhere, and having “your antenna open all the time” when you travel or shop, and pose that central question of “What else could it be?”

Anyone is capable of producing great ideas, he said.

“Have some fun, play a little. It will yield results.”

I think the marketers who left the auditorium after Rivkin wrapped up this morning are already busy applying his advice.