A recent European study has suggested that to find truly novel ideas, you need to look beyond the boundaries of your own industry.

The researchers charged several different but comparable groups, roofers, carpenters and inline skaters, to come up with ideas to combat the thorny problem of those groups’ reluctance to use safety gear.

key finding was that each group was better at finding solutions for the others. Indeed, the study found that the novelty of ideas generated increased with the distance from the context of the problem. So, carpenters came up with the most innovative ideas for inline skaters and so on.

Why should this be? The researchers suggest that people from analogous groups have some understanding of the problems others encounter, yet are not constrained in their thinking by the ‘known’ solutions to the problem. They can also access their own divergent knowledge and experience to bring fresh perspectives.

So how can you use this learning to start exploring comparable fields that might shine light onto uncharted territory in your own industry? Here are a few ideas:

  • Be curious. Leave the cosy confines of your desk and sign up for talks, conferences and workshops on topics outside your field, even if they don’t seem immediately valuable to your day to day work.
  • Think carefully and expansively about what an analogous field to your’s might be. Work in product design? What might a chef teach you about conceptualising and executing ideas that delight consumers? Are you an architect? Maybe you could learn a thing or two from photographer who interprets light and space everyday.
  • You could even set up a group in your local area of people from comparable industries, who come together from time to time to generate new ideas and share their knowledge.

Who knows what sparks might ignite? As for me, I quite like the look of this course on hostage negotiation

Photo by Cultura de Red/ Flickr/ CC by 2.0