Connection Making is Key To Creativity.

Electrical cables with a spark between them sumbolising connection making

Simply talking about creativity is never enough to get across its pivotal role in innovation!  What’s needed are examples. How did someone generate that great new idea? What was the analogy or metaphor that led to a new insight? How did someone end up combining data in new ways to make a great new connection?

There are well known examples of people making connections that led to breakthrough new products. One such is that of the Swiss inventor George de Mestral. After he had been walking in the mountains he had to brush the sticky burrs from his trousers. This inspired him to develop the fastening material Velcro.

As this story demonstrates connection making is key to creativity. Great examples of connection making can motivate and inspire wannabe innovators – so it’s always good to find new ones.

Martin Myerscough, founder of Green Bottle in Suffolk, UK is a brilliant new example. Martin gained inspiration when his son brought home his latest piece of craftwork from school – a balloon covered in papier mache.  Many parents might have offered appropriate encouragement for their son’s artistic endeavours and left it at that. Not Martin. He made a connection between the papier mache covered balloon and the problem of creating new packaging for liquids.

The result is a new, mostly paper container with a polythene bag inside which can contain milk, cleaning fluid or other liquids. A key benefit is that these green bottles are much more environmentally friendly. The paper shell will decompose in five weeks, whereas it is estimated that the rigid plastic bottles that are currently used to package these liquids will take 500 years to decompose. ther eis already global interest in his invention.

We can all make connections, but some of us are better at it than others.

Innovators are Particulalry Good At Connection Making.

Indeed, when Harvard researchers spent six years and interviewed three thousand executives to find out ‘what makes innovator’s different?’* They discovered that the thing that innovators are more skilled at than non-creative professionals is ‘associating’.  This is the ability to connect seemingly unrelated questions, problems or ideas from different fields.

Steve Jobs is recognised as being particularly good at connection making. The name for his company Apple came to him after he had spent time in a commune where they had extensive apple orchards. Another example of his connection making at Apple concerns the Magsafe power cord on Apple laptops. This is designed to connect the computer to the power cord with a magnet. Jobs had seen a similar safety feature on a rice cooker which stopped the rice cooker being pulled over and spilling hot liquid. He wanted the same safety features on his laptops so that they could not be pulled off the desk by someone tripping on the power cord. If this were to happen then the magnet connection simply detaches the computer from the power cable.

We can all make connections, but some people are better at it than others. The good news is that a person’s connection making ability is like a muscle. If we don’t use it, then it will become flabby and weak. However, if we practise making connections,  we will be working our connection making muscle  and it will get stronger and stronger ...  until we are seeing connections everywhere!

Suggested Action.

  • Practice connection making regularly.

  • Start with some straightforward items – what connects the pen and the tube of glue on your desk?

  • Move on to the seemingly unrelated – what connects your dog and a television?

 *The innovator’s DNA Harvard Business Review December 2009

Read more about the Green Bottle company.

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