Friday, July 6, 2012

How to think what nobody has yet thought, about that which everybody sees ?

“The task is...not so much to see what no one has yet seen; but to think what nobody has yet thought, about that which everybody sees.”

How do we think fresh about something that we have always been seeing ?  Trigger your mind to think differently about it - where else i see this phenomenon, how else i can use this object, when else does this happen. Such divergent thinking leads to many out-of-the-box ideas. Tools like SCAMMPER can help us to think divergently on demand. Hair is something that we all see everyday, have you ever thought beyond hair styling or hair loss - have you ever wondered for what use could the fallen hair be employed ? We may scratch our head while solving a problem and a few strands of hair may fall in the process - but here is a story where somebody solved problems using the fallen hair. Have you ever thought how human hair could help to clear oil spill ? Have you ever thought how human hair can help plants to grow ? Here is a story of Philip McCrory who thought of novel uses of fallen human hair and successfully productized his idea. I first heard of Philip McCRory's idea from Andy Stefanovich's book on innovation - "Look at More". Thanks Kumar for introducing Andy's book to me.

Phil McCrory - SmartGrow

Hair stylist Phil McCrory, realised that hair could help the environment while watching a news coverage on the Exxon Valdez oil spill. He noticed that the fur on the Alaskan otters was soaked with oil but the waters around them was completely clean. He started testing how much oil he could collect with hair clippings from his salon, which led him to invent the Hairmat which, as well as being reusable, also has other sustainable uses – it provides a slow protein release which works as a natural fertilizer.

After spending 18 years as a hair stylist, Phil McCrory got an idea. He developed "SmartGrow" — mats woven from human hair. The product is becoming a popular organic alternative to chemical herbicides. 

Phil McCrory started cutting hair in '71. And after spending 18 years sweeping the shear and locks up the floor, he tried to figure out what he could do with all those ringlets and curls. And he came up with not one, but two great inventions. One involves environmental cleanup. The other might have helped make your salad last night.

NPR - STEWART: So you wanted to make a product from human hair. When you had this ah-hah moment watching the Exxon Valdez oil spill, explain how you took the mental leap from watching oil floating on the water on your TV to human hair.
Innovator - Mr. McCRORY: Well, it was the otter that triggered the thought. The otter, being saturated and it was saturated with oil. And I was thinking, well, the otter was, you know, getting saturated with oil, then the hair that I sweep up should do the same thing. So basically, I took the hair home, put it in my wife's pantyhose, created a little imaginary spill there with - in my little pool, and cleaned the water up. Within a minute and a half, I had the water crystal clear, and all the oil was in the pantyhose loaded with hair.
NPR - STEWART: All right. So the Hairmat, what is the Hairmat?
Innovator - Mr. McCRORY: The Hairmat is made up of 100 percent human hair. There's nothing there but hair. No chemicals, nothing. But what happens is you put this into a needle-punch machine, which was initially designed to make carpet and carpet padding, which they still use it for - carpet padding. And so the hair goes into the machines, goes to a hopper, it blows it up and then lays it out on a conveyor, runs it through the machine of about 6,000 needles and it just makes it into a mat. It resembles a doormat.
NPR - STEWART: So how did you come to realize these hairmats, which, I guess, initially, you thought about as soaking up oil, could be used for helping grow crops?
Innovator - Mr. McCRORY: Well, you know, I was sitting on my patio in the spring of 2000. Now, I have a mat in my hand, you know? And I thought, well, you know, I've given a lot of hair away in my salons for people for the gardens to deter rodents and deer. And some say it will make their plants grow. And I thought, well, it's protein. So let me try it. I'd had rosebush that I planted in '96, been there four years that never produced a rose. My wife bought it and told me to plant it. I did. But it never grew. It never produced a rose in four years.
So I - in the spring of 2000, I dug up where the roots was exposed and put the hair there, covered it back up. And in 90 days, that rosebush grew 15 feet -this is a true story, it's bizarre but true - 15 feet and was loaded with Seven Sisters bouquets. I mean, just absolutely loaded. And all I did was put the hair there.
6 Innovation Triggers

The Innovation Genome Project is a grand effort to look at historical innovations and identify best-practices and techniques that could help us to create innovative ideas. Read more about it at Innovation Excellence - 

They have identified six powerful questions that could trigger innovative thinking:
  1. What could we look at in a new way?
  2. What could we use in a new way, or for the first time?
  3. What could we move into a new context, either in time or in space?
  4. What could we connect in a new way, or for the first time?
  5. What could we change, in terms of design or performance?
  6. What could we create that is truly new?
Philip McCrory's innovation story amply demonstrates the power of the first two questions - looking at things in  new way and exploring new ways of using.   

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