Not too long ago I picked up the “big new idea” book, Blue Ocean Strategy. Its basic concept is about pursuing and creating new products and services (blue oceans) instead of duking it out with established competitors in existing categories (red oceans).
It is absolutely a smart way to go. In fact, we have been preaching this concept for years. In my 1981 book Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind, Al Ries and I wrote, “It’s better to be first than better.” And in our 1985 Marketing Warfare you’ll read how “flanking warfare moves into uncontested areas that avoids established competitors.”
Did the authors borrow old ideas and build on them? Sure. They have followed Thomas Edison’s advice when he said, “Your idea needs to be original only in its adaptation to the problem you are currently working on.”
You can increase your odds of solving a problem by becoming a collector. When you come across a nifty notion or a savvy strategy, save it. Start a journal, a clipping file and a computer file. Keep a pad by the bed, a voice recorder in the car.
When you’re trying to find a solution to something, dip into your collection. Then use a blueprint to make the most of an existing idea. (The blueprint itself is adapted from a checklist by Alex Osborn, author of Applied Imagination.)
The simplest way to solve a problem is to borrow an existing idea. Military designers, for instance, borrowed from Picasso’s art to create better camouflage pattern for tanks.
The simplest way to invent a new product is to adapt an existing idea. The pop singer and composer Paul Simon was asked where he got the inspiration for “Bridge Over Troubled Waters.” He was brutally honest. He said he was carrying around two melodies in his head–a Bach chorale and a gospel tune from the Swan Silvertones–“and I just pieced them together.”
The Museum of Paleontology at the University of California at Berkeley held a dinosaur body-parts sale. The museum asked contributors to sponsor parts of a Tyrannosaurus rex that had to be assembled. Donors’ names world appear on a plaque at the museum. Prices ranged from $20 for a tailbone to $5,000 for the skull and jaws. (In case you’re wondering, there are 300 pieces in your average T-Rex skeleton.)
The effort was a huge success. People bought dinosaur parts in their kids’ names. Elementary schools held bake sales to sponsor a bone.
And where did this idea come from? It was borrowed. The fund drive was akin to an opera house selling individual seats to benefactors.
Dale Carnegie, of How to Win Friends and Influence People fame, was a famous borrower. He once wrote: “The ideas I stand for are not mine. I borrowed them from Socrates. I swiped them from Chesterfield. I stole them from Jesus. And I put them in a book. If you don’t like their rules, whose would you use?”
What’s often floating in those blue oceans are borrowed ideas.
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