Did you know the first webcam was invented to check to see if a coffee pot was empty without having to get up?  Students at Cambridge University invented the first webcam so that they could monitor the coffee pot from another room, so they wouldn’t have to walk all the way there if it was empty.  The old phrase goes, “If you want to find an easy way to do a difficult project, give it to the laziest employee.”  But why is that true?  Surely our innovation would come from our need to succeed.  Or simply our passion for design and development would drive us.  Perhaps it’s a little bit of each.  You can’t ignore what a huge discovery these students made.  Webcams are placed in almost every single laptop sold today, and paved the way for front facing cameras on our phones.  But how can we drive that innovation, other than a need for a fresh cup of joe?

  1.  Be Fascinated with your Work – Another way to say this might be “work in a field that fascinates you,” but they don’t have to be mutually exclusive.  When you are completely taken by an idea or a subject, when a project excites you, take note of it.  That is the kind of thing you should be working on.  Put the time and effort into your work so that it has the potential to fascinate others.  When you work with material you are passionate about, you are more likely to have breakthrough ideas.
  2. Failure is a Step Towards Success – We like to think that all inventors have “Eureka!” moments that result in their inventions, but the truth is that many failures come before those successes.  When asked how it felt to fail 800 times before successfully designing the light bulb, Thomas Edison said, “Fail?  I didn’t fail once.  I learned 800 times what didn’t work.”
  3. Fantasize isn’t a Bad Word – Most people hear fantasize and think of something of poor taste, but it is good to fantasize about “what could be.”  Using your imagination is the only way to think outside of the box and design something we haven’t seen before.  If you find yourself daydreaming, don’t beat yourself up, some of the best ideas come that way.
  4. Diversify your Life – Get out and mingle with other people, not just your coworkers.  Meet with and hear the thoughts, opinions, and motives of people from different professions, ages, pay-grades, or anything different from the norm.   Being able to see and understand different views of the world can help you come up with new ways to approach ideas.
  5. Be Aware of Accidental Discoveries – On many occasions, discoveries are made while trying to discover something else entirely.  Penicillin was discovered when Alexander Fleming forgot to clean up his workstation before going on vacation, and came back to a fungus growing on one of his cultures.  Penicillin is one of the most used antibiotics today.  The soft drink Coke was made while trying to come up with a cure for headaches.  Vulcanized Rubber was made when Charles Goodyear spilled a mixture of rubber, sulfur, and lead onto a hot stove and it hardened.  Don’t be so focused on your goal that you overlook all potential of your product.