Where Do Innovative Ideas Come From?

When someone comes up with an innovative idea, it often seems as though the idea fell into their lap like a magical gift. But truly innovative ideas rarely come from a “Eureka!” moment. Innovation is born from a lot of thought, observation, and strategic problem-solving.

We talked to people as diverse as industry innovators from Netflix and Skinnygirl, creative connoisseurs from Pixar, artists, and innovation professors to find out how these visionaries came up with some of their most innovative ideas.

Find your pain points to inspire creativity.

Marc Randolph, the co-founder of Netflix says that innovative ideas come out of pain: those “little daily annoyances,” the things that don’t work properly, or processes that are more difficult than they need to be. When you train yourself to see the mechanics behind pain points, you start to consider how those pain points can be alleviated.

Consider the typical paint can. Randolph points out the can design hasn’t been updated in over 40 years yet it remains difficult and inefficient to use. This is a perfect example of a pain point, ripe with innovative possibilities. Consider, also, the mythos of Netflix’s founding. The story goes that when co-founder Reed Hastings was hit with a $40 late fee on a video rental, this outrage sparked the idea for Netflix, a video rental service without late fees.

Don’t mistake this for a “Eureka!” moment. A great deal of testing and problem solving went into the creation of the DVD rental startup before and after the late fee story. Innovation is “a very messy process with input from many, many sources”, says Randolph.

“Look for pain,” advises Randolph. “Look for things that are broken, and ask yourself ‘What’s wrong?’ That is where opportunities for innovation lay.”

Use braintrusts to generate ideas.

When it comes to innovation and creativity, no one can dispute Pixar’s genius. Matthew Luhn— a 20-year Pixar veteran who helped create films like Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and Upshares that Pixar’s secret to innovation was forming a braintrust comprised of directors, writers, and storytellers to help develop great concepts. The members would meet regularly to share their ideas and films, and to give and get feedback. According to Luhn, innovative ideas are created through collaborative brainstorming and feedback.

To inspire the most innovative and creative ideas, the way you give feedback is important as well. Luhn advises delivering feedback with candor, honesty, and mutual respect, which will inspire innovation and encourage collaboration.

Go with your gut. 

Your desires and your gut intuition inspire innovative ideas. Bethenny Frankel wanted a delicious tasting cocktail without all the calories. The problem? There was nothing like that on the market at the time. So Frankel made one herself. A businesswoman ahead of the curve, Frankel saw the opportunity in a low-calorie cocktail and crafted the recipe in her kitchen. While filming The Real Housewives of New York, Frankel began ordering her low-calorie margarita recipe, calling it a Skinnygirl margarita. Soon women across the country were ordering Bethenny’s Skinnygirl margarita recipe too.

Frankel turned Skinnygirl Cocktails into a billion dollar business and lifestyle brand offering practical and healthy solutions to women and virtually created the low-calorie cocktail industry. When it comes to innovating, Frankel says, “You have to have blinders on and go with your gut when you think you have a great idea.”

Surround yourself with different people to spark ideas.

All innovation is a form of positive deviance,” says Jeff DeGraff. Dubbed the “Dean of Innovation,” DeGraff is a business professor at the University of Michigan, the creator of the university’s Professional Innovator Program, and the founder of the leading innovation institute, the Innovatrium.

When creating these hubs of innovation, DeGraff realized that innovative ideas flow most freely when we are surrounded by people with different ideas than ourselves, and when we are away from the restricting gaze of authority. In this type of environment, innovation thrives through what DeGraff refers to as positive disruption. When organizations get too big and everyone shares the same ideas the organization’s “scope and scale impeded the positive disruption of innovation,” explains Degraff.

Sometimes building a method to innovate is an innovation. In DeGraff’s case, the method was a building the Innovatrium. He did something positively disruptive. He bought a building across the street from his university office, fixed it up, and gave keys to some of the most innovative thinkers he could find on campus. “My plan,” he says “was to create a place where we could come together and think freely and innovate. The culture of innovation spread and, pretty soon, it started to infect the larger institution.”

Go against conventions.

Sometimes innovation is simply going against the conventions set up by authority and persevering in the face of perceived failures. At a young age, Wahl was told by a teacher that “art was not his strength.” He put down his crayons and paints and followed a more traditional life path that led to corporate America. But after a series of life-changing event including losing his job and all his money, Erik had to reinvent his life and rediscover the innovation he had shut off inside himself for so long. He became a world-renowned graffiti artist.

Now as an artist Erik Wahl must continuously innovate and spark fresh creativity. To do this Wahl realized that “resilience to overcoming obstacles and perceived failure is a key driver of innovation.”

Erik says “institutional complacency is the greatest foe of innovation” and while not all ideas work, if you want to innovate, you have to keep pushing forward and move out of your comfort zone. Talking about his work as an artist and entrepreneur, Erik says,

If I am not failing, I am probably not pushing the fringes of new ideas hard enough. The more comfortable I am, the less innovative I become. Resilience is key to becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable, which is the starting point for all innovation.

The content writers at BigSpeak Speakers Bureau are Experts on the Experts. They hold doctoral, masters, and bachelors’ degrees in business, writing, literature, and education. Their business thought pieces are published regularly in leading business publications. Working in close association with the top business, entrepreneur, and motivational speakers, BigSpeak content writers are at the forefront of industry trends and research.