5 innovations outside our industry you should know about

5 innovations outside our industry you should know about

From the user interface of Silk Road to medical lessons from sailing, these innovations help us look beyond our immediate surroundings to improve our work.

When Adwanted and The Media Leader asked me if I wanted to present five world-class innovations at The Future of Brands, I didn’t realise they meant from beyond the world of media and advertising.

Well, let’s say I’ve dug deep, looked far and wide and mainly stolen inspiration from minds greater than mine.

(I may have snuck some advertising in at the end. Sorry!)

1. Look in unexpected places

A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to see Jamie Bartlett present. He explained how innovation often starts from criminal enterprise. He introduced Silk Road, the original site on the dark web where you could buy guns, drugs and any nefarious item of your choice.

You sign up with a user name, then browse products, look at seller ratings, check out comments, speak directly to sellers, buy (using crypto — it was an early adopter), receive products through the post and leave ratings and reviews. And the cycle continues.

The thing is, this all existed before eBay or Amazon was even around. Look at a screen grab of early eBay and they look identical. Silk Road transformed the way we shop online today.

I’m not suggesting you run out looking for criminal masterminds to attend your next brainstorm. Just look in unusual places for inspiration.

2. Use your passions

I got into snowboarding late in life. Three broken wrists, countless fractured ribs, whiplash — it sounds like I’m shit, but I like to think I’m committed.

The first wrist break was on day two of my first trip. I hit the après and hoped for a miracle. I clocked the plan had failed when I woke up at 4am, hungover and in bits. At least I was first in A&E that morning. Quick X-ray: “We’ll need to put a cast on it, sir.”

My memory of casts harks back to my schooldays. Your friend breaks something, they turn up with a bulky white plaster cast, you draw a rude picture, the teacher shouts at them. Happy days.

Fast forward to my snowboarding trip and my doctor is wrapping me in cotton wool and flimsy gauze. I’m thinking: this won’t do anything. Then it got interesting. He dipped his hand in a bucket of water, wet the gauze and it went rock solid. “Incroyable,” I exclaimed.

It turns out that, between me leaving school and discovering snowboarding, a doctor with a love of sailing transformed the way the medical profession operates around the world.

When a fibreglass boat hits something and needs immediate repair, this is the material they use. The doctor took inspiration from his passion and brought it into his work.

3. Set audacious goals

On 12 September 1962, John F Kennedy announced to the world: “We choose to go to the moon, and do the other things, not because they are easy but because they are hard.” He set the most audacious goal humanity ever faced.

But we had no idea how to navigate in space. Zero.

Think about the magnitude of that.

On Earth, it works because of magnetic poles. In space, there is no up, down, north or south. We needed a guidance computer.

The problem was, back in the 1960s, people measured success by how big their computer was. You’d hear someone bragging about their computer taking up a whole floor of their office. Nasa had to create something small and lightweight.

That was Contract One, the very first contract of the entire Apollo programme.

(And here’s a nugget for you: that brief was only 10 pages. Next time you are writing a brief, think about that before you start writing War and Peace. Cut it back; you’re not putting people on the moon.)

They did it by revolutionising the use of integrated semiconductor circuit boards. At one point, Nasa was buying 60% of all the microchips being produced in the US. The computer went from a floor to a 30kg machine the size of two shoe boxes — the world’s first portable computer.

Less computing power than a calculator today, but one that sparked the digital revolution that is all but commonplace now.

4. Necessity is often the mother of innovation

In 1966, at the height of the space programme, nearly 5% of US GDP was being invested into Nasa. Huge technological advances came out of that, but innovation does not always need to be high-tech.

Millions of babies die within a month of birth in the developing world. The developed world sends high-tech incubators to help but when they break, there’s no access to parts.

In parts of rural Africa, or in emergencies like the Haiti earthquake, doctors become inventive by using easy-to-access products, like car headlamps to provide the warmth needed for incubators.

Easy to use, easy to fix, easy to replace — innovation does not always need to cost a fortune, be complex or require a huge team to deliver.

5. Innovation alone is not always enough

Otto Rohwedder was a successful businessman in 1920s Missouri. He decided what the world needed, more than anything, was sliced bread.

He sold everything to fund his dream and, by 1928, he had done it. The problem was no-one cared. The people didn’t want it. The bakers didn’t want it. Everyone slices their bread at home — what’s the point? It was a disaster…

…Until two years later. In 1930, Taggart Baking Company became the first to nationally market pre-sliced bread under the brand name Wonder Bread. It put ads up everywhere and sold the dream: the wonder of Wonder Bread.

It was the best thing since… you get the point.

On its own, the innovation was not enough. It needed a brand to set up the story and ads to give us the reason to buy.

And, to this day, we still use that expression for any innovation that sets the bar higher than that.

Hamid Habib squareHamid Habib is managing director at Havas Entertainment and chief experience officer at Havas Media Network

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