A tremendous glimpse of the obvious

Sometimes when your stuck, it's good to step back and look at things through another lens.

I recently wrote a post about articulating the value of your innovation.  In that post I suggested that you look at innovations from other industries and use the “utility and warranty” aspects of products and services to help you describe the value (or purpose) of your innovation.  I am a computer scientist by training, and those who know me well will tell you that I tend to err on the side of structure and discipline. As such, you will see that most of my musings tend to focus on how those things support (or maybe detract from) the innovation process.

But I am also a firm believer that some great inventions are the result of an “a-ha” moment.  Since “a-ha” may be a little vague, I thought there might be a better way to describe that moment when you look at a situation and realize that the underlying principle or value of your innovation can be based on a very simple premise. I thought of using something like Occam’s Razor, but that didn’t quite seem to apply.

Lately I’ve read several articles about Josh Silver, a physics professor at Oxford University who has developed “adjustable eyeglasses” that, with very little guidance, can be “tuned” by the wearer to correct his or her vision. This is an amazing invention that holds the potential to improve the lives of millions of people around the globe.

What I personally found most intriguing was Mr. Silver’s perspective on the flash of insight he had with respect to his invention. As described in the article, he referred to it as “a tremendous glimpse of the obvious – namely that opticians weren’t necessary to provide glasses.” The true value wasn’t just the utility or warranty of his invention – the simplicity of the eyeglasses or the ease of adjustment or the quality of the design. It was the fact that his eyeglasses could mitigate a problem that might never be solved – the global shortage of trained specialists required to prescribe and produce traditional eyeglasses. 

For me, the key take-away from Mr. Silver’s story is that sometimes it pays to look beyond the obvious boundaries of the problem (or opportunity) that is the driver of your innovation. All too often – and especially in tough economic times when we are under tremendous pressure to deliver results with less resources - we take a myopic view of the problem at hand and fail to look at the broader value that our innovation may bring.

So I encourage you, especially when the barriers to innovation are great as they are now, to step back and look for that “tremendous glimpse of the obvious.” It may significantly increase the value of your innovation – from either a utility or warranty perspective!