Innovation Leadership: How Great Inventors Can Help Us Reinvent

Insatiable curiosity. That’s part of the human condition. It’s what fuels amazing innovations every single day around the entire globe and, in the end, ideas that come from surprising places through surprising happenstances.

A few months ago, a colleague introduced me to the short film “Billions In Change,” featuring Manoj Bhargava, creator of 5-Hour Energy. I was fascinated to see how a person who built an empire on caffeinating the masses was so motivated to invest his profits and time into improving water, energy and health outcomes via a brilliant, yet very hybrid, team that is approaching these specific issues in new and novel ways. He has managed to bring together thinkers and makers with myriad backgrounds and experiences, and they’re making huge strides in designing and rapidly prototyping their concepts.

Observe Unmet Needs and Bring in New Thinkers

The health industry can learn a great deal from this approach. By starting with a mission that is “purpose-built,” health and wellness companies will naturally expand from the traditional linear development methodology to encompass an approach that centers on the patients and caregivers we are serving. In this context, the word “serving” is very personal, because it requires that we observe through listening. This can be done through a variety of channels, but especially through social listening — that’s where people are honest, transparent and constantly seeking information and answers from their peers and other like-minded people. By observing unmet needs and bringing them to your our own thinkers and makers in much the same spirit as Manoj and his teams do, amazing things can happen.

Toss the ball around the horn. Bring on the weird. Embrace different and unexpected ideas. Forge partnerships with third parties and have them join in. Being innovative, particularly in the realms of social and mobile, comes with an element of needing to be responsive, as customers have more and more control over their own choices and preferences.

Much can be learned by taking cues from leaders in the hospitality or automotive industries, for example, which routinely observe unmet needs and seek to deliver for them. Just as Manoj and his team illustrate, having a clear passion to provide solutions for your customers and committing yourself whole-heartedly to being open to every inspiration will accelerate your creative process.

Hire the Inspired

Another ever-curious hero we can learn from is Dean Kamen, most well-known for inventing the Segway. He actually has more than 440 patents under his belt, many of which serve the medical field, such as the first wearable infusion pump, an in-home dialysis machine, and Luke, a new prosthetic arm for injured soldiers. But he is just one person; in order to bring his ideas to life, he hires people who can observe the issues the product will positively impact asymmetrically from many angles to ensure that they are providing the most complete solution possible. Furthermore, he is helping global organizations to see, in his words, “… a 21st Century problem needs a 21st Century solution.” He’s doing just that with Slingshot, a unique water purification system. He has partnered with such organizations as TED, Africare, and The Coca-Cola Company to seed the first units with local village entrepreneurs to provide clean drinking water for those in need.

What he has done for the next generation of thinkers and makers is amazing. Dean founded FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) where he funds technological education for more than 300,000 young people globally. (He and Manoj are also both running neck and neck in their race to provide the world with fresh water, Manoj with Rain Maker and Dean with Slingshot.)

There’s a key takeaway in how both these trailblazers have had the wisdom to look at needs and opportunities as outsiders and leverage their experiences to have major impact in completely unrelated sectors. One of the most amazing things I have witnessed in my career is how even our own agency has morphed and diversified to become the group we are today. Hire the inspired and you’ll see the complexion of your enterprise change to be more flexible, agile and capable of bringing valuable, timely results to your customers. As Dean said in his landmark TED talk, “It’s not about technology, it’s about people and stories.”

Combining your own expertise with that of pathfinders in other industries is not for the faint of heart, but can be very rewarding. It takes courage, honesty, nimbleness — and, most of all, insatiable curiosity.


This article originally appeared on MediaPost