Every innovator and entrepreneur yearns for the day when they can raise their hand in glory and proudly proclaim: EUREKA!
Few people wake up in the morning and say to themselves, “I want to invent something that no one will even take notice of.” Rather, they want to create the next mobile phone, hybrid car or solar panel.
And while having these lofty goals is admirable, it’s important to keep in mind that innovations don’t have to be BIG to be important. We can go even further and say that innovations don’t have to be BIG to be life changing.
When we think of innovation, we think about new technologies or products. But at its core, innovation just means something new and creative.
Take, for example, an innovative way to slice a handful of cherry tomatoes. Most people know how time consuming this can be, and while there may be some TV infomercial hawking a gadget to handle the job, why not sandwich the cherry tomatoes between two plastic lids, then running a long knife through all of them at once?
Using every day projects in a completely different way is about as innovative as you can get.
One commonality among all innovators is that they refuse to see things in the same way as everyone else. Case in point: when a coat rack isn’t just a coat rack.
Most of us have seen coat racks. We know what to do with them. We nail the coat rack high up on the wall and hang our coats, hats, and umbrellas. But one innovative person thought it might be a good idea to lower that rack down the wall and hang shoes on the pegs.
When is a coat rack not a coat rack? When an against-the-grain thinker decides it’d make the perfect shoe rack.
In the movie Dead Poets Society, Robin William’s character dared his students to look at the world differently. He emphasized his point by having them stand on his desk and look over the classroom.
Looking at the world differently is a key characteristic of innovators. All of our lives we’ve been told how to operate a toaster: up and down like the rise and fall of the sun. If we wanted to toast a sandwich, we’d have to invest in a toaster oven.
Except that’s not necessarily true. Innovation led to the simple act of flipping a regular toaster on its side, and placing two pieces of bread, covered in cheese, in each slot. Voila: toasted grilled cheese, without the need for a toaster oven or stove.
Names and titles define the function of a person or object. A computer computes. A light bulb illuminates a room. A muffin tin holds muffins.
But innovators aren’t so quick to accept these titles. Why should muffin tins be confined to simply holding muffins? Why can’t they have a larger presence in the kitchen?
In fact, they make the perfect holders for cooking stuffed peppers. They cradle each pepper upright, giving you the power to fearlessly stuff away. What else could that muffin tin be used for?
When you have the likes of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and other internationally acclaimed thinkers bombarding the news cycle, it’s easy to assume that innovation isn’t something everyone is capable of.
But history is filled with examples of products and ideas that were thought up and imagined by normal, everyday folks. Some of these innovations don’t get the fancy marketing and branding like an iPod, but that doesn’t mean their influence in our lives is any less significant. Wouldn’t you like to know if your eggs are fresh before cracking them open? Wouldn’t it be great if you could stop your eyes from watering while chopping onions? Casual innovators have come up with solutions, simply by thinking outside the box.
It doesn’t take deep pockets, celebratory status, or even a degree in science or technology. It just takes imagination, belief, and determination. Everyone can be an innovator. So, what’s your great idea?