To the creative mind, there is no right and wrong. Every action is an experiment, and every experiment yields its fruit in knowledge.
- Robert Anton Wilson, The Illuminatus Trilogy
This is 100% right.
In ideation, there are no obvious wrong answers, and there are no obvious right answers. Think of every idea as an experiment – it may work, and it may not work, but you won’t know without running the experiment.
Let me give you an example. I was at an ideation session once with one of our clients in financial services. The topic was financial health – we were discussing the best ways to inform customers when they needed to address their financial health. By serendipity, one of the facilitators had brought the wrong type of colored markers to the meeting – he meant to grab the regular markers but instead grabbed the scented markers. As he wrote, the room filled with the scent of strawberry, blackberry, and lemon.
He apologized profusely for bringing the wrong markers – but as we were taking in the scent, I thought – how can we combine this “happy accident” bringing the “wrong” kind of markers – into what we were ideating in this session. How do you combine scents with financial health?
We envisioned a device which emitted a different scent based on your financial health – for example, let’s say that you liked the scent of vanilla but hated the scent of vinegar. You could connect the device to the internet and your stock portfolio, and configure the scent which it would generate if your portfolio were doing well, and a different scent if your portfolio was doing poorly. If you came into your front door and smelled vanilla, you’d know that your investments were doing well that day.
If you smelled vinegar, they were down. You could even connect undertones to other triggers – say your overall portfolio was down, but Apple, which you tagged with an apple scent (appropriately) was up, you’d smell vinegar with an undertone of apple. This idea was so novel that it was approved by the patent office in record time (eighteen months as opposed to four years) and went on to become a multisensory financial health device targeted to disabled individuals.
Had that facilitator brought the “right” markers to that meeting, this idea may never have been germinated, and never have to lead to this valuable patent that the client can now license to others or build in its innovation lab. The markers were “wrong,” and the idea seemed “wrong,” but in the end, suspending the concepts of right and wrong in ideation – and considering every idea an experiment – will assist you to generate undoubtedly interesting, disruptive and potentially very profitable new product ideas.
Think back to the Wright Brothers and the concept of flight, or Thomas Edison and the light bulb – there was no right or wrong way – there was just experiment after experiment, eventually leading to success and breakthroughs.
One wonders if these inventors thought their experiments right or wrong and never completed them, we might all still be traveling in trains across the country by candlelight.