"Genius is in-born, may it never be still-born."

"Oysters, irritated by grains of sand, give birth to pearls. Brains, irritated by curiosity, give birth to ideas."

"Brainpower is the bridge to the future; it is what transports you from wishful thinking to willful doing."

"Unless you keep learning & growing, the status quo has no status."

Sunday, April 5, 2009


Actually, my first impression of 'piggybacking' is the picture of a NASA space shuttle 'piggybacking' on top of a Boeing 747 cargo plane, which I have seen many many years ago.

Well, for the purpose of this post, 'piggybacking' is also a term commonly used in the field of creativity & innovation to describe a creative initiative, whereby one rides on the ideas of other people, or from other disciplines, to come up with a new &/or better idea, especially during a brainstorming exercise.

Tactically, 'piggybacking' is combining, modifying & expanding other people's ideas. 'Hitch-hiking' is apparently another similar term often used to describe the process. Overall, it is based on the concept that ideas build on ideas.

In other words, riding or "standing on the shoulders of giants", to paraphrase Sir Isaac Newton.

Come to think of it, this implies what the 'Book of Ecclesiastes' had said centuries ago that "there is no new thing under the sun" rings true.

Many creativity experts have in fact argued that:

- all ideas are evolutions of previous concepts, or conceptual combinations;

- creativity is cumulative & incremental;

- creativity can be defined as recombination: it is the creation of something new from the combination of elements that have previously existed;

- innovations today are always combinations of previous ideas, products that are already out there, being used every day;

In the book, 'How Invention Begins: Echoes of Old Voices in the Rise of New Machines', professor emeritus John Lienhard explains how major creations like the steam engine, the airplane & the printing press came about.

In virtually every case, the credited inventor built on many ideas preceding his own. To some degree, the author says, an invention is the product of group intelligence.

He posits that the quest for a single canonical inventor of a new technology is illusory, because all inventions are the sum of many contributions.

As a matter of fact, business scholar Richard Ogle, writing in his fascinating book, 'Smart World: Breakthrough Creativity & the New Science of Ideas', reaffirms this interesting nugget:

Originally, Xerox's research team had a crackerpot PC design, but it was a tiny rival Apple, thanks to the two wonderful Steves, who were better plugged into the critical hobbyist world, which in turn triggered the PC goldmine.

According to the author, some inventors succeed not by inventing from scratch, but by using lots of established ideas & then pushing that knowledge into a new direction that leads to a major discovery.

I certainly like his principal premise in the provocative book: the source of creativity lies "out there," in the network of connections between people and ideas.

The key resides in what he calls "idea-spaces," a set of nodes in a network of people (and their ideas) that cohere and take on a distinctive set of characteristics leading to the generation of breakthrough ideas, e.g. the amazing scientific discovery of Watson & Crick, as well as the Gutenberg press, among many others.

A couple of weeks ago, I have read an interesting blog-post (possibly by innovation strategist Keith Sawyer) about Dr Chi-mao Hsieh, a professor at the Missouri University of Science & Technology who has figured out a way to measure the relatedness of all the component ideas in a new idea by researching the inventory of patents.

His findings:

- the most successful patents have an intermediate degree of relatedness;

- patents that cite more other patents are most successful;

Interestingly, industry watcher & technology strategist Patricia Seybold has revealed in her inspiring book, 'Outside Innovation: How Your Customers Will Co-Design Your Company's Future', about the phenomenon of "outside innovation", whereby the most innovative companies are now using lead customers, partners, suppliers, universities, contract labs & other sources outside the company to jointly develop new products or technologies.

She has also maintained that internal R & D departments of these companies are being redeployed to scout for new products & technologies in the marketspace, including overseas.

Undoubtedly, at least from the standpoint of 'piggybacking', Mother Nature - a logical playground of ideas - has been modern technology & engineering's greatest teacher. Please read my earlier post in the 'Optimum Performance Technologies' weblog.

So, in a nut shell, & considering most of today's modern conveniences, which have their origins or connections to 12,000 years of ancient history, based on the exploratory work of scholar & documentary producer James Burke, 'piggybacking' is a truly creative initiative.

[Please peruse his wonderful book, 'Connections from Ptolemy's Astrolabe to the Discovery of Electricity: How Inventions are Linked & How They Cause Change throughout History', or better still, get hold of & watch his entire collections of DVDs.]

By the way, to help you build your concepts while brainstorming, I like to offer this wonderful tip from creative director Robert Pratt:

"Don’t be afraid to piggyback off ideas that, for the moment, don’t seem to have anything to do with your problem. Sometimes hitchhiking off an unrelated concept may lead a winding productive path right back to your original destination, or an even better destination than you originally intended. Remember, your idea should be pliable at this point. Nothing is engraved in stone."

[to be continued in the Next Post. I will share my personal observations of 'piggybacking' in the movie industry, from which action movies are a pet subject of mine.]

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