Learn to Analyze Detail: Inspiration In Plain Sight
by Robin Grugal
Inspiration for great ideas is all around us – not hidden in shadowy recesses, but right there in plain sight. All it requires is for us to see the obvious with fresh eyes. Easier said than done? Sure, it’s in our nature to overlook what we take for granted. But it’s worth making a conscious effort to be more observant in our everyday lives. Amazingly enough, billions of tea drinkers observed the force of steam escaping from water boiling in a kettle before James Watt realized that this vapor could be converted into energy. And many scientists and researchers knew bacteria couldn’t live around the penicillium mold, but it took Alexander Fleming to recognize that the mold killed bacteria and could potentially be used to fight infection, giving birth to the field of antibiotics. The Eyes Of Children “Those who see what’s obvious aren’t necessarily brighter than others. They’re just more likely to observe that the emperor is naked. Like children, they see what’s actually there. Their perceptions are less clouded by belief systems, taboos, habits of thought,” said authors Richard Farson and Ralph Keyes of Whoever Makes the Most Mistakes Wins. Consider the case of Swiss engineer George de Mestral, the father of Velcro. He found an alternative to the zipper by observing nature. His story began one night in 1948, when he and his wife were about to go to dinner and she became frustrated by a stubborn zipper on her dress. She wondered if there might be another way to secure fabrics. A few weeks later, de Mestral took his dog for a walk through the forest. On his return, he noticed burrs on the dog’s coat and thought he would look at one under a microscope. The surface consisted of tiny hooks, and he noticed that they stuck to tiny loops in his clothing. He wondered if the principle of tiny hooks and loops could be made into a product. It took him eight years to devise a cheap and simple way to make large quantities of the fasteners, making one strip soft and fuzzy (loops) and the other with tiny hooks. He finally succeeded and made millions of dollars in royalties. Oddly enough, nobody before de Mestral thought about the adhesive qualities of those annoying little burrs. And it wasn’t for a lack of analysis. The herb that produces these burrs, called burdock, had long been valued for its medicinal properties, said Steven Strauss in “The Big Idea.” Then there’s the case of Ermal Fraze, the inventor of the first self-contained, ring-pull drink opener. Back in 1959, he was at a picnic and wanted to open his drink can, but couldn’t find a can opener with a triangular pointed edge. So he used a car bumper to get it open. The result was a lot of foam and frustration. Fraze, a toolmaker, went down to his workshop one night and tinkered until he came up with the basic principles of the ring-pull can. The idea became the standard for soda and beer cans for nearly two decades. The push-in and fold-back version replaced it in 1977.