Innovate to Compete: How to be more creative and original than your competitors

In this technological age where there are over 2m websites and 3.1m internet users, it ’s certainly difficult to come up with a unique idea, with so many ideas uploaded daily. If you think you have a billion dollar idea, chances are someone in the opposite end of the world has probably thought of it.  So, the question begets: are there ways to come up with completely unique ideas? Well, the simple answer is no, but here are some ways you can be more creative and original than your competitors.

1) When you come up with an idea, act fast.

It’s true that many ideas you come up with would have already been thought of. Especially when it comes to technological innovation, the chances of you having the same idea as someone else are about a third higher than any other field. Companies are also eager to organize Hackathons, where participants from all areas of the world brainstorm innovation ideas. On average, each person generates between 35 and 48 thoughts per minute. This translates to about 50,000 to 70,000 ideas generated a day, and this knowledge itself may already deter you from dipping your foot in the water. However, the good news is that ideas are cheap and few of them are actually pursued, much less developed and implemented. As far as the word “innovation” goes, it is merely an intangible idea. What you need to do is not to be the first to THINK of an idea – but to be the first to ACT on it.

Take the Theory of Evolution for example. It is a theory generated by both Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace. However, when you ask any layperson who is the creator of the Theory of Evolution today, 80% of those who know will tell you that Darwin did.

This is because Darwin spent months mulling over the concept of the interconnectivity of different species, and cleverly kept most of his ideas to himself. When he found that Wallace published a paper on natural selection in 1958, he quickly consolidated his ideas and promptly published The Origin of Species in 1959. Darwin is now known as “The Father of Evolution”, when Wallace created the same theory at the same time.

Now imagine yourself as Wallace and your competitor is Darwin. You do not want to miss an opportunity to make a breakthrough just because you did not solidify your ideas. When you think of an original idea, act on it immediately. File for a patent, gather an effective team and swiftly move to the production phase. Do not let your ideas stay undeveloped. If you can’t be the first to think of an idea, at least be the first to own it.

2)  Break conventions, be unorthodox.

The only way to “think out of the box” is to think without boxes. Many people tend to be afraid of breaking certain social rules or guidelines when they propose unorthodox ideas or be unconventional themselves. By insisting on “thinking out of the box”, they lock themselves inside the ideology that “there is a box”, causing their ideas to only be based on inventions that have proved possible before.  This prevents them from making breakthroughs that are truly unthought of. But the truth about innovation is that everything is possible.

When you finally remove the boxes, you can draw meaningful connections between different fields – an effect known as the “Medici Effect”.

Someone we can learn the Medici Effect is Steve Jobs. Coming from an unconventional background of a college dropout, nobody would have expected Jobs to inspire the world with his multiple disruptive creations. One of the biggest breakthrough Jobs made was the creation of fonts and typography, which forever reinvented the appearance of our screens. It also revolutionized an unrelated field of marketing with the subsequent birth of graphic design. This would not have happened if Jobs had not exposed himself to different disciplines when he was younger, which enabled him to draw the connection between handwritten calligraphy and digital typography. If he had kept the boxes for calligraphy and technology separate he would not have found the magical area where they intersect.

So stop thinking of how you might be able to fit into the existing boxes and come up with your own unique, original idea that transcends them.

3) Partake in casual activities not related to your work.

As the quote from the famous movie, Christopher Robin goes, “Doing nothing often leads to the very best kind of something”. As counter-intuitive as it sounds, constantly trying to think of a breakthrough may simply stress you out and in turn, kill your brain cells. When that happens and you are on the double for ideas, you may be tempted to use your competitors as a benchmark. This will backfire on your process of creating something innovative as it imprisons you inside the cage of  “things that have been done” rather than “things that have never be done”. When you partake in other activities that are not related to your work, you are able to rest your mind. It is only in a relaxed and idle state can your neurons activate parts that may not be usually activated, enabling you to connect different networks of neurons and draw connections from different fields.

A way you could partake in casual activities is to develop a habit that helps you be more creative. This habit could be taking a walk or a nap – activities that are scientifically proven to increase your creativity. They could be normal activities but spun in a way that works best for you. For example, Steve Jobs goes on walks barefoot when he is brainstorming for creative ideas. Salvador Dali on the other hand, naps with a key in his hands over a metal plate. This may sound like an odd habit but it helps him weed out any roadblocks he might encounter when conscious, thus enabling him to connect different thoughts and be more creative.

By partaking in unrelated activities, you can also distract your competitors from figuring what you’re up to, especially since it’s not natural for one to draw a connection between doing casual things and being productive. As the saying goes, you are your only competitor. Distract yourself first by partaking in casual activities, and your work will naturally come along.

Have you ever found yourself in a creative rut? What are your best ways to get out of it?

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