While some opt for Jeopardy or Wheel of Fortune as their after-work TV show, Shark Tank is one of my go-to shows. You get to watch everyday folks make their way into "The Tank" and pitch their innovations to the "Sharks" hoping to take their idea to the next level. Jeff Bezos once said, "Frugality drives innovation, just like other constraints do. One of the only ways to get out of a tight box is to invent your way out." While this certainly remains true in some instances, I tend to think that necessity is not always the vessel for innovation.
People are known to be naturally curious and quite playful, which makes us all fundamentally exploratory. With this state of mind, seeking out new possibilities within the world around us is inevitable. More often than you might think, our moments of simple enjoyment and curiosity eventually lead to insightful breakthroughs. It is almost impossible to hold onto all the mundane data we intake every day. What we remember most are experiences, feelings and the times we ventured toward the unknown. We can take so much away from these experiences because we are active, present and interested – a recipe for discovery that can lead to the next best thing or help society improve.
A great example of this school of thought is evident in the innovation of surfboards. Tom Blake is one of the most influential surfers of all time. In one interview, he revealed that in 1935 he found an abandoned speedboat and experimented with his surfboard by bolting the keel to the bottom of the board. He said he had never "experienced such control and suitability" on a surfboard. Through Blake's love for surfing and some experimentation, the single-fin surfboard became the dominant design for the next 40 years.
Some other examples include:
The Ice Cream Cone – When an ice cream vendor at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair ran out of dishes to serve his ice cream in, Ernest Hamwi (the vendor next to him) came up with the idea to spin a wafer-like waffle into the shape of a cone as vessels for the frozen treat.
The Slinky – During World War II, a naval engineer named Richard James was tasked with developing springs that could stabilize important instruments on naval ships during times on rough waters. James accidentally knocked one of his springs off a table and watched it do that famous Slinky "walk" down to the floor instead of simply plopping to the ground. His wife, Betty, found particular enjoyment from this occurrence and saw an opportunity for a new toy. From there, the Slinky was born!
Solutions and improvement can come from the simplest circumstances and places you would never believe. So, when trying to find the next big thing, remember: stay active and stay goofy.