Innovate By Triggering Simple Semantic Shifts
Disruptive new and innovative products need not be created through completely new thinking. In fact, completely new thinking can sometimes be difficult, requiring a completely different growth mindset, environment, and team. It’s something you may not have access to or be able to whip up at a moment’s notice when you need some innovation to occur or a challenge to solve.
In these cases, there are some simple ways in which you can innovate and help unlock new thinking just by doing some semantic shifting, a subset of which we call “changing the nouns.”
For example, when the web first started, it was a fairly reasonable size, but it was difficult to find what you wanted. Enter the directory – places like Yahoo! and DMOZ, a type of internet home page where you could find hand-curated websites by traversing or searching a directory. It was a directory with a search, but just for the engine. Later, these search engines became the “portal” to the internet via Alta Vista, Google, and other engines. Once the portals got to a certain size, they got to be a little unwieldy; the capturing of things that were of interest to you was limited to local bookmarks you stored on your computer.
Eventually, Yahoo! and others invented the concept of the internet, customized to you. Sites like “My Yahoo!” allowed you to see a customized directory based on your preferred settings. It was ” the internet customized to you.”
So how do you innovate to get something like Facebook? You swap the nouns “internet” and “you” and get “you, customized to the internet.” Facebook was all about your profile and presenting your profile to the world to allow you to connect with others. Even the name harkens back to the original concept of a “facebook,” a paper book full of people’s profiles (typically students), helping you to connect with them. Where directories and search engines were all about bringing the internet to you, Facebook is about bringing you to the internet.
There are hundreds of startups and apps out there that are the “uber of X”, where X is your favorite noun. I came across a site the other day of a company that only develops “clones” of pre-existing services, I’m assuming hoping to capture some of the marketplaces. But I digress.
Just take a typical phrase, swap out the nouns, and see what happens. Sometimes you will get nonsense, sometimes, you will get nothing new, and other times you will get something completely new that you have never thought of before. Use tools like the Random Word Generator and create new, unexpected combinations. You will innovate.
For example, let’s try the random noun generator for “Uber for X.”
How about a “uber for moms” delivering a mom to you when you need a mom-type task to be completed? Or a “uber for attention,” delivering someone’s attention when you need it? Let’s try again:
Soup delivery? Teacher delivery? Desk Delivery? Development Delivery? Some of those could fly.
The idea here is not to generate the idea – it’s to generate uncommon semantic juxtapositions, which can then trigger new thinking.
Blogging, podcasting, and YouTube were born when someone swapped the “professionals” and “public” when talking about writing, radio, and TV. Swapping “the crowd” for any market which is currently locked down by professionals is one idea.
Try it yourself – take something you do or would like to do, swap out the nouns for new ones, or just swap them around completely. You never know what you will come up with.