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Ubiquitous to Anomaly: A useful way to begin the creative process

As innovators:

  • We’re on the constant lookout for novelty.
  • We want/need to know what’s happening in the world and what might change it.
  • We’re not really concerned with debating what’s already here.
  • We simply identify what’s already here and think about how we might change or replace it.

Innovation skills require ‘connect the dots’ skills. And today, if you’re in charge of innovation at your organization, you are living in information overload. There’s just no way around it. You have to be able to filter and connect the unconnected. That’s the challenge. How do you do it?

I don’t claim to have the answer to this problem, but I do have a very simple method to jump-start my brain.

From Ubiquitous to Anomaly

You start by thinking about what’s already here and then look for anomalies. This is how it goes:

  1. You have to know what you are looking for. When we’re talking about change, you have to be on the lookout for change. Ask yourself:
    • What is happening in the world today?
    • What does it mean for others?
    • What does it mean for us?
    • What would have to happen first for the results we want to occur?
    • What do we have to do to play a role?
    • What do we do next?
  2. Understand that there are plenty of things that haven’t changed in awhile. Ask yourself:
    • What’s boring?
    • What do we, as humans, take for granted?
    • What do we mindlessly keep on doing?
    • What products or services suck?

Think about it this way, what already exists (ubiquitous) is going to be replaced at some point by something completely different (anomaly).

Take paper cash for example. In a new book, author David Wolman argues that cash costs society far more than we think it does. The point: Paper cash is ready to be replaced.

Paper cash is ubiquitous. It’s been around for ages. We can’t imagine life without it. What would be the anomaly? Maybe paying with our time as presented in the movie “In Time“. Or paying electronically as Wolman argues in his book.

This is an example of how something that has existed for a long time, stuff we take for granted, is ubiquitous and is ready to be replaced by an anomaly.

Another example, let’s look at electric fans. They’ve been around for ages. They first mechanical fan was introduced in the 19th century. That’s a long time ago!

Here’s one and I bet you don’t notice them anymore:

electric fan

commonly used electric fan (ubiquitous)

James Dyson’s eyes must have popped out of his head when he started thinking about how to make a better fan. Because he saw something that was so ugly compared to what he ended up creating. He created something that doesn’t look like a fan:

Air Multiplier And James Dyson

Air Multiplier And James Dyson (anomaly)


Creativity is really about discovery. To discover and connect the unconnected, look for anomalies. Things that just don’t fit with the status quo, things that fall way out of the mainstream. Look to the edge where ideas don’t have a form yet, where they are yet to be connected in a useful way.

Don’t know where to look? Check out these resources I put together to help you spot anomalies. But don’t stop there, those resources are just a starting point.

Put yourself in Mr. Dyson’s shoes and ask yourself:

  • How do I reinvent ___put your own product/service____ ?
  • How do I make a better ___put your own product/service____?
  • What’s wrong with ___put your own product/service____?

Then, go and look for ideas to borrow from the edge that might help you do that.

Ubiquitous to Anomaly. As you know, there is a process in between ubiquitous to anomaly. You just don’t snap your fingers and everything connects itself. But I’ve found that starting by thinking ‘Ubiquitous to Anomaly’ is a useful way to begin the creative process.

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