Creativity is a muscle. If you want to get better at being creative, exercise it! People act if creativity exists in short supply -- like they either have it or they don't. I know creativity doesn't work that way. When I quit my job at the toy company Worlds of Wonder to begin bringing my own ideas for products to market, I forced myself to scribble down idea after idea on a large notepad. Most were bad. But I kept at it. In time, I learned what worked and what didn't. Walking the aisles of brick-and-mortar stores? Motivating. Staring at the wall for hours on end? Not so much. One of the most useful strategies I uncovered was a simple one: Playing games. Want to come up with a product consumers will want to buy and therefore companies will want to license? Play mix and match.
Playing mix and match is as straightforward as you might imagine: Simply combine different products. To jog your curiosity, visit a storefront in person. Walk its aisles. Start making connections. What two or three items could be brought together? What elements of different products could be brought together? Don't focus on coming up with only 'great' ideas. This is practice! Free your mind.
Don't believe me? For those of you who think this sounds far too easy, listen to this lineup of five products in The Week's 'Best of' section this week. They include a digital tape measure, doughnut-warming mug, moth-resistant clothes hanger, combo smartphone charger and car locator, and beer-opening spatula. Brilliant products! I'd pay for the ability to instantly convert inches to centimeters when I'm taking measurements. Who doesn't want to keep their delicious morning pastry warm longer? Wherever there are clothes, there are likely to be both hangers and moths. What isn't a smartphone charger being combined with these days? I know I like to enjoy a cold one when I'm out by the grill.
What do these products have in common? They're all double-duty. Products we take for granted all around us are the result of ingenious people putting them together. How much more simple can you get?
Mix and match works so well partly because it forces you to focus on existing products. Variations of existing products are by far the easiest ideas to license. My point being, you do not need to reinvent the wheel -- not even close. Companies are fearful and risk-averse. If an idea is too new, they're unlikely to take a chance on it. They want something that's just unique-enough, yet also familiar to the consumer. Focus on increasing the usefulness of an item. What benefits can you add by bringing two components together?
I like to refer to products that haven't been innovated in years as 'sleeping dinosaurs.' These products are missed opportunities waiting to be capitalized on. Just yesterday I read about how James Dyson wants to create a hair drying revolution with his new product the Dyson Supersonic. The hair dryer has barely changed in 60 years despite the fact most people use them! Use mix and match to bring new life to old products.