One of the most common operations performed on a computer is copy and paste. We copy a section of a webpage and paste it into a document. We take it for granted. We grab an idea from one place and put it to use in another. So why not use this method for your next product or service innovation?

Henry Ford did not invent the concept of the assembly line.  He saw it in use in a meat packing factory.  He copied the idea and implemented it in his car assembly plant.  This innovation transformed car manufacture and made cars affordable for a mass market.  Ray Kroc copied this idea from car factories and applied it to his restaurant chain, McDonalds, to develop the fast food innovation.

One of the best sources of ideas for your business is the natural world.  Nature solves problems in all sorts of clever ways so it can often provide an innovative solution for your business problem.  Alexander Graham Bell based the design of the telephone on the workings of the human ear.  The diaphragm in phone is similar to the diaphragm in the ear.  When doctors wanted to design a better hypodermic needle they looked to nature for inspiration and based their innovative design on the proboscis of a mosquito.  The Pringles design is copied from wet leaves which fold together in a pleasing curve.

When looking for ideas for improvements or innovations don’t just look at other organizations in your field.

The Danish architect Jørn Utzon won the Pritzker Prize, architecture’s highest honour, for his creation of the Sydney Opera House, one of the most iconic buildings in the world.  He based the design on the sails of sailing boats.

George de Mestral was a Swiss engineer. He went for a walk with his dog in the Alps in 1941. On his return he noticed that many plant burrs adhered strongly to his clothes and his dog’s fur. He studied the burrs under a microscope and saw that they worked with little hooks.  He copied this idea in his invention of Velcro – which is now used as a fastener all over the world.

The Mum deodorant company took on Helen Barnett Diserens as a designer in the late 1940s.  She was asked to develop a new way to apply a deodorant.  She copied the idea of the ballpoint pen to create a new roll-on underarm deodorant which was marketed under the name of Ban Roll-On.

When looking for ideas for improvements or innovations don’t just look at other organizations in your field.  Look in entirely different arenas – the arts, entertainment, military, medicine, education, the natural world and so on.  There is a wealth of creative ideas out there and some of them should be pasted into your business.

By Paul Sloane


About the author

Paul Sloane held senior positions at IBM, Ashton-Tate, MathSoft and Monactive. He is the author of over 20 books which have sold over 2 million copies in total. Titles include How to be a Brilliant Thinker and The Innovative Leader. He speaks, writes and leads workshops on creativity, innovation and lateral thinking. He also facilitates innovation camps for major corporate clients. For more information visit