Fifty shades of smart: Asking the right question

Just this morning, coming into work on the tram, the woman next to me was reading the ‘naughty’ romance bestseller, Fifty Shades of Grey. Oh no, not another person reading that book, I thought. It’s everywhere!

Fifty Shades of Grey has recently topped bestseller book lists, and won the honour of being the fastest-selling adult novel of all time. No matter what you think of the book (mummy porn, erotic fiction, Fifty Shades of Boring, anyone?), there is something going on here that we can’t ignore, and we can actually learn from.

Hats off to the author E.L.James for putting a new spin on an old idea – and coming up with a blockbuster – simply by asking the smart question: how do you rejuvenate the old romance novel for a new century? Sex it up, of course. DOH!

Asking the right smart question can lead to the next smart idea. So often we think innovation is coming up with a bright new idea that no one else has thought of before. But that’s really hard to do.

Instead, imagine building on existing ideas that might be staring us right in the face.

Two questions to ask to find a smart idea are:

  1. What already exists that you can put a new spin on??“If I have seen farther, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants,” wrote the brilliant 17th century scientist Isaac Newton in a letter to architect Robert Hooke in 1676. Newton tells us in this quote how science – indeed all civilisation – advances in small steps, each an incremental advance on what came before it.  You can apply this ‘standing on the shoulder of giants’ philosophy to something as mundane as reality TV!  For example just when we thought the whole talent quest format was done and dusted with Australia’s Got Talent, The X Factor and Australian Idol, along came The Voice – with its new mentoring role for the judges – to create a new record ratings blitz.
  2. Ask yourself what is something that frustrates you, what problem am I solving?  What is annoying you might be annoying lots of other people too.  For example, how often have you thought ‘I wish I could jump the queue and order my coffee’ and along comes an app or several that let you do just that.

Our challenge in business is finding the next smart idea, the next Fifty Shades of Grey in our day-to-day work using these two questions. It might be staring straight at you … perhaps in that cup of coffee on your desk.


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