This past week, a breakthrough in science was announced. If you missed it, the reason might be the innovation itself: In what some estimate to be an existing community of 300,000, there's a new font in town. Your read right, the advance is a new font. If you're chuckling already, you're getting ahead of the punch line, that is the name of this new creation: Sans Forgetica. But as much as the name might make you grin and the category of scientific advancement might have you ready to move on to the next story, don't. For all of the poking fun, Sans Forgetica has powerful potential. More, it's a simple reminder of where the power to create anything lies.

The Short Story Of (An) Innovation

The quick backstory of Sans Forgetica is this: Australia-based psychology researchers, design specialists, and behavioral scientists - folks who don't usually spend a lot of time together - got together for what project leader Stephen Banham described as "a cross pollination of thinking." (creativity lesson #2 below) Their eclectic group wondered if font, of all things, might actually be employed not simply to capture knowledge, but to help people learn better. (creativity lesson #1) As their research unfolded they decided to engage in a little rule breaking, nothing illegal mind you, just the laws that governed their separate fields - things like creating a font that leaned left rather than right, or purposely leaving gaps in the lines forming individual letters rather than fully connecting those lines as all of us are sworn to do from the moment we learn to write. (creativity lesson #3) Out the back end of this creative process came Sans Forgetica, the first font specifically designed to help people remember better and retain more information. And it works. A series of tests run by RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia showed significant retention improvement when using the new font for study preparation and various types of note taking. It's already getting a lot of attention and praise across fields from education to economics. (creativity lesson #4)

But why does it work?

If you sat Banham and his colleagues down surely they could tell you a myriad of reasons, ones drawn from their individual fields. But as interesting as that might be, the truly noteworthy and important insights are found in the crossover space - not just between their fields of study, but the crossover patterns common to all forms of creativity. 4 lessons stand out, and remembered and applied regularly, can significantly raise the odds of ongoing, impactful innovation. You might just want capture them in Sans Forgetica.

4 Lessons In How To Innovate Anything

  1. Puzzling. Central to Sans Forgetica is a theory called "desirable difficulty," which basically says that human brains work better and show their true abilities when they encounter minor obstacles. Left rather than right leaning font and letters whose lines have gaps where we expect none to be are examples. As much as we think we want ever more straightforward simplicity and guarantee in our lives, 100,000 years of human evolution says that's not quite right. We want difficulty, we just want it to be the desirable kind, what Banham describes not as leaping tall buildings in a single bound, but simple puzzles. Sans Forgetica inserts those puzzles for you, stimulating that part of your brain that hungers for more than routine.
  2. Coming To The Edge. Sans Forgetica automatically awakens that part of our brains we too often give the day off. But the story of how this new font came to be in the first place teaches us a different lesson: To advance anything, we have to be willing to come to the edges of what we know. The eclectic group behind Sans Forgetica, choosing to work together beyond their individual fields is one example of coming to the edge. But more pertinent to every one of us is what Stephen Banham had to do in his own head. Even just to begin to explore the possibilities, he says, he had to override 25 years of ingrained thinking born of studying topography the way everyone in his field is taught to study it. It was a conscious choice to see what he could see beyond the safety of the borders he knew. What he discovered across those borders led to Sans Forgetica, but what he discovered about the edge was more valuable still: that edge we fear will be like stepping off a cliff when we approach it, is really more like stepping off a curb.
  3. Rule Breaking. Sans Forgetica is a result of this truth about creativity and innovation: rules are meant to be reexamined, retested, and even broken. We are taught to fear rule breaking, because we are told its intension is to bring disorder. But Melbourne-based font team never sought to break the rules of design of typography out of rebellion or disrespect. They began with those all important and oft forgotten first steps when it comes to rules, the willingness to reexamine and retest their value. It's as simple as that. If the rules serve you well, leave them alone. If they don't, there's a good chance it's time to bend or break them.
  4. Co-creating. Hidden in all of this is a lesson vital to the creation of Sans Forgetica and to all creation: Nobody does it alone. Can we have individual creative ideas? Of course. But breakthrough ideas are always an accumulation of many smaller ones reaped from many minds. And weaving them altogether, shaping them into something substantive, and extracting lasting value from them is, despite the Horatio Alger mythology, a job of the many, not any one.

If you want to try Sans Forgetica you can download it for free from the University's website. But if you want to increase the odds of successful innovation ongoing and in anything you do, just remember the 4 powerful insights this unforgettable new font embodies.

If you want to learn more about creativity or innovation, check out other Inc. columns by Larry Robertson or his award-winning book on creativity, The Language of Man. Learning to Speak Creativity.

Published on: Oct 8, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.