News Finding innovation in the everyday: the cross-pollination hack.

6th March 2018

Our resident Industrial Designer and passionate innovator Dimitri Stronghilis takes a closer look at cross-pollination.

Do you ever wonder why some people are able to come up with brilliant new ideas on a regular basis?

It’s probably not because they’re smarter than everyone else, although that might be true. And it’s not that they’re visionary gurus with some kind of window into the future, either.

The more likely answer is that they have trained their mind to work harder when faced with a question that needs a fresh answer. And one easy way to do this is cross pollination.

By using two key innovation skills, observation and association, you can begin to generate new ideas by applying the smart or valuable features of one thing to an application that would otherwise be unrelated. This bringing together of ideas from different fields is the basis for cross-pollination.

So how to begin to teach your brain to cross-pollinate? The answer is surprisingly simple – begin by thinking about everything you experience as food for your brain. Not just the obvious sources like the different types of media we consume, although these are good too, but the conversation you overhear on the train, the shape or colours of the trees that really appeal to you (or don’t) as you walk down the street or even the way items are arranged in your fridge. Being observant and simply asking yourself why something is the way it is can lead to fertile new ground for ideas.

And we are constantly surrounded by an abundance of inspirational sources ripe for the picking. If you’re awake, asleep, at work, travelling, eating – literally whatever you’re doing, even right now while you’re reading this, you’re surrounded by moments to observe and things to associate. Anything and everything has the potential to supply insight to us, from the way your phone can process a payment the same way your credit card does, to the persistence a spider shows as it spins its web on your car door mirror every single morning.

Inspiration won’t just come from the fancy things people have created to make our lives better and more interesting, either. Be sure to look to all the goodness mother nature has served up to us, too. Human ingenuity and nature are excellent sources for ideas that can be borrowed, adapted and re-applied in new and exciting ways – they always have and always will feed each other.

Henry Ford did this when he borrowed the idea of a conveyor belt process from a meat packing factory for his car production lines, George de Mestral did it when he kept getting burrs stuck on his clothing and used that annoyance to invent Velcro and Steve Jobs did it when he took the inspiration for the computer mouse from a Xerox product he had seen earlier. The list goes on.

Cross-pollination is one of my favourite innovation methods that lends itself to anyone willing to look a little deeper and think outside of that box. Time and time again it has proven itself to be a very effective way for people to create brilliant, game-changing ideas with something that might be so obvious in an otherwise foreign application.

There are no limits to where this kind of thinking can take you. Practise taking a little time out of your day to think about how things you experience every day are done, and not just focus on the result. Try to experience new things as much as you can, talk to new people and get outside of your comfort zone and you might be surprised where even the smallest journeys can take you.