Ask the Experts: Eureka Moment

The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily represent the opinions of King’s College or WRKC.

Q: I am not having luck creating a new internet business. How do I search for a new idea?

A: Many innovators start out searching for a grand idea, but    discover that is not the typical or best path to creativity. There are already many ideas for new websites floating in digital space, some of the best ones are just adapted from existing technology and improved.

Quite often the best way to innovate is to borrow another idea and apply it to your own business. You do not have to reinvent the wheel, something already may be in use in another industry or another country. An actual eureka moment is a theatrical concept, while the act of improving is a long hard trek. Capitalizing on that improvement is even harder.

The web is replete with examples of how people have revised another idea and made it a success. Apple for example did not invent the personal computer, they took the idea from the Xerox Alto and made the Macintosh.

Innovation is not a single event, but more of a process involving the discovery of a vision, the manufacturing of a solution then the transformation of an industry. It is hardly ever achieved by one person alone. It is also rarely from one field of expertise but a combination from across many.

Some examples of innovative technologies have been modeled on biological designs and nature. Biomimicry lead Alexander Graham Bell to copy the inner workings of the human ear when he created the telephone. The hypodermic needle was also developed by studying nature, mosquitoes to be exact and their ability to inject you without you feeling it.

A little creative thought goes a long way, as people are always trying to figure out better ways of doing things. Asking the right questions and defining an approach to a problem or situation can lead to innovative ways of solving it. While people usually think of Tesla, Uber, and Airbnb as examples of innovative companies, there are other established companies such as IBM that have stayed at the top of their game for years. They can see past short-term, hot trends and invest for the long term, developing for generations.

With the advances in cloud technology and Internet of Things devices, there will be no end of areas that can be improved. However, the requirements for innovation today are completely different to those of the past generation. A number of start-ups have failed for not being able to keep pace with market changes and established players.

Collaboration is becoming a competitive advantage as problems today are far more complex. Our exposure to a limitless volume of information today is also conducive to innovation. A student with a smartphone has access to more data now than a highly trained scientist had a decade ago.

Taking a broader view of innovation and realizing that you do not have to invent something new will go a long way towards actually achieving it.

If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old… Peter F. Drucker.

Written by John Regan, former Director of Sales, for equity research.