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Cross Pollination: How and Why It Works

By Peter Lloyd

More ideas mean better ideas, because more ideas bring more chances of hitting upon a really great idea. You can increase your chances of generating really, really great and new-to-the-world ideas when you enlist a more diverse group of creative ideators. The more diverse, the better.

The key is to reach beyond your comfort zone and outside your normal circle of ideators, advisers, and creatives.

Why cross pollination works
Just as in the plant world, where new life arises from the introduction of pollen from other plants, all great ideas arise from combinations of ideas that haven’t met yet. In both cases, we call this process cross pollination. You get a greater diversity of ideas by collaborating with a greater diversity of creative people—people from a variety of disciplines, departments, cultures, ages, mindsets, motivations, and orientations.

Here are some examples that illustrate why this works:

Cross Professions
Space scientists have delivered benefits to many other disciplines. Now dentists and you, their patients, may someday enjoy the increased comfort and safety of super-tiny x-ray cameras developed for space exploration. Smile!

“The benefits of space technology for dentists”

And then there’s The Cheerios Effect.

“A well-known effect in breakfast cereal helps physicists understand the universe”

Cross Senses
Researchers at Harvard and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory are using light to study smell. They want to understand how our brains distinguish one smell from another. Workout readers know that the Cage of Affinity discourages us from using our senses in unexpected ways. But if our nose nerves work like our retinas in any way, researchers will collect lots of ideas about olfaction that have always been right above their noses.

Cross Time
I think it’s safe to say many problems you struggle with today have been solved yesterday. I’ll even venture to say that every problem has been solved at some point history—from way, way back to what your competitors have discovered recently. You can learn as much from their failures as you can from their successes.

“The art of copying: Scientists tell us that even copying mistakes can be good”

Cross Purposes
You can find many examples of how drugs created to solve one ailment end up alleviating another. Consider aspirin. Introduced more than a hundred years ago to reduce pain and fever, it has been proven since to prevent heart attacks and strokes. Researchers are looking into its ability to reduce cataract formation and as a preventive against several cancers.

“Parkinson’s drug offers insight into helping cocaine users kick habit”

Cross Abilities
You don’t have to be an expert to cross pollinate. Amateur and outsider cross pollination works just as well. You could say that smart scientists have been crowdsourcing before the word landed in any lexicon. Thomas Edison may have been the first to announce the tactic of using “ideas from anywhere” to the world but astronomers have enlisted amateurs to cover the night sky with abundant success for a long time.

“Backyard astronomer in Ireland finds supernova”

The 18th-century research of non-scientist Mrs. Ebot Mitchell contains an effective treatment for at least one ailment.

“Housewife Remedy for Scurvy Preceded Medical Discovery”

Who better to invent than an end-user? Here’s evidence that cross pollination scores when the blind lead the blind.

“Blind inventors revolutionize computer access”

Cross Consciousness
Let’s leave the waking world. Surely, just like Friedrich August Kekulé you’ve awaken from a dream to a solution you’ve been working on. Now there’s clinical evidence that napping and dreaming may take your creative game up a notch or two.

“Dreams Make You Smarter, More Creative, Studies Suggest”

Peter Lloyd is co-creator with Stephen Grossman of Animal Crackers, the breakthrough problem-solving tool designed to crack your toughest problems.
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