For a long time, the prevailing theory was that the creators, ideators, or innovators among us were a special type of person that had an innate gift for inspiration. The idea that creativity could be taught was much debated, but it is also one of the most commonly debunked myths in the innovation space. 

Perhaps even more surprising is that we’ve found that it’s not, in fact, about learning to be creative, but un-learning non-creative behaviors. Most famously, George Land conducted a study in the 60s to test the creativity of more than 1,500 children by giving them the same creativity assessment that he used to assess potential NASA employees. He re-tested the same children at 10 years old and 15 years old, as well as more than a million adults, and found that although 98% of children were ranked as imaginative at the age of 5, only 2% of adults were creative. You can watch the full TED talk here.

So the solutions to the biggest challenges in the world actually have the potential to come from anywhere if we can nurture that original impulse. In fact, in a recent web event, I heard the speaker essentially say that if you ever think to yourself “this could be better,” then you’re actually an innovator waiting to happen. And I have yet to meet a person who couldn’t envision some way to improve something.

Then, in 2016, Steven Johnson introduced the idea of collaborative creation in his book Where Good Ideas Come From. For example, he talks about how Tim Berners Lee combined a number of different concepts and ideas from other people (encyclopedias, a suggestion from a freelancer, and more) and that the result was the early baseline for the internet. It’s for this reason that ideas actually emerge out of some really surprising places and sometimes are unrecognizable from the original suggestion – because they merge, coalesce, crush each other, and build each other up.

The smartphone, for example, is a combination of a bunch of different concepts: GPS was part of the military’s Navstar program, the internet was funded by DARPA, the touchscreen was a combined project between CIA and NSF…and all of those individual projects were the result of inspiration from large groups of people.

People ask me all the time why I founded IdeaScale. There are lots of reasons: because people can’t see into their blind spots, or because I worked at a big bank where it was hard for young people or new people to share their ideas – but I think the driving principle that led me to found this company is simple: good ideas can come from anywhere, and in an age where we are more at risk for disruption than ever, where we have staggering problems to solve, we cannot be looking for the same ideas from the same people. We have to get surprised by the ideas and maybe even the people that they come from.

To read five short stories of remarkable ideas that came from surprising places, download our infographic on the subject there.

About the Author

Rob Hoehn is the co-founder and CEO of IdeaScale: the largest open innovation software platform in the world. Hoehn launched crowdsourcing software as part of the open government initiative and IdeaScale’s robust portfolio now includes many other industry notables, such as EA Sports, NBC, NASA, Xerox and many others. Prior to IdeaScale, Hoehn was Vice President of Client Services at Survey Analytics.



Featured image via Unsplash.