Innovation: the Practical Application of Inspiration
By Kimberly Kuhn, Director, Marketing Communications, Tyco Security Products
Every day, inspiration challenges us. Random acts of kindness, Mother Nature’s fierce unpredictability and beauty, the “V” shape of birds as they migrate to warmer climates. And, of course, Tom Brady’s cool 334 all-time touchdown passes, two Super Bowl MVP awards and nine Pro Bowls. Powerful, inspirational stuff.
Now, doing something with that inspiration—that’s the trick.
Working for a world-leading security technology company, I see a lot of pretty amazing things. Cameras that go far beyond security to offer purchasing advice based on shopping patterns, and office lights and computers that greet you as you enter the office simply because you badged in for the day. Someone, somewhere, was inspired by an opportunity to do something better, or make something easier. It’s why we have things like smartphones, GPS devices and space shuttles.
So how does one turn inspiration into innovation? I asked some of Tyco’s most innovative and inspirational leaders for their formulas:
Read. Relax. Simplify.
“Innovation is often associated with new or bleeding edge technologies. Sometimes the best type of innovation is simplifying or finding solutions to a common problem. My favorite example is the portable USB charger to avoid running out of battery on your mobile or tablet on the go. It comes in all shapes and sizes and most everyone is now carrying one. Such a simple invention is now becoming our new way of life—we just cannot live without it….I find my inspiration in many places. I am an avid reader so naturally that stimulates ideas. However, many of my recent ideations are coming from traveling the world and observing cultural behaviors and adaptations. I find that I am most creative as part of a group and the best inventions are accomplished spontaneously.”— Irene Lam, Director of R&D
Talk to people.
“Innovation happens naturally if I’m focused on the right things—listening to the people who are using the products we develop and learning from their experiences, both good and bad. I never wake up in the morning and think to myself, ‘I really want to come up with some cool new thing today,’ because that would take me away from that customer focus. It’s amazing to me how much innovation is born from the heartfelt discussions we have with people who truly put their trust in us to protect their employees and property. Security is such a fundamental, emotional concern. When you combine the customer with his passion to protect and the developer with her passion to create, innovation inevitably happens.”—Deeya Kochhar, Product Management Analyst
Let your brain breathe.
“I write test plans and test procedures, which, to some, can seem boring and less important. But it’s the backbone of the testing process to make sure we deliver working products every time. It’s an amazing feeling when we hear positive feedback from customers about a feature/product. Just before delivering the product it always gets chaotic, and we feel the need sometimes to step away for a bit to let the brain breathe. I read…a lot. Or, I’ll go for a walk. Or listen to my favorite musician. Anything EXCEPT think about the problem at hand…at least for a little while…. Technology can be complicated, but innovation is usually about breaking down that complexity and simplifying things. I love the story of Sherwin Williams, the paint company, and how they solved their market share problem in such a simple way. They surveyed some contractors and realized that most of them were buying paint from whatever store happened to be closest to the job site. So what did they do? They opened a plethora of small neighborhood stores to ensure there was always a store nearby. That customer focus and ability to simplify the problem generated an incredibly innovative solution.”—Hema Chandrasekar, Senior Engineer
Embrace the ‘what ifs’
“Some of the most amazing innovations started out as crumpled pieces of paper on the meeting room floor. I have personally borne witness to some of my company’s most ingenious technological breakthroughs that started as cartoon sketches on a white board. Every conversation that starts with ‘What if…’ is a potential path to innovation, no matter how meandering and illogical it might initially seem. Follow it through and don’t be dismissive. Get excited. Be ridiculous. Embrace those moments and conversations that might seem silly—it’s amazing how quickly they can turn into an ‘Aha!’ moment.”—Michelle McNamara, Corporate Counsel