If you want to lead, read. If you want to innovate, read and watch more. There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory, which states that this has already happened.
Is the answer to becoming a successful innovator, or millionaire trendsetter, blowing in the wind (my friend)? Or is the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything, the number 42*?
Maybe we can find the answer, in the lyrics of one of my favourite songs, The Sounds of Silence. Written in February 1964 by Paul Simon in the aftermath of the 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy, the song propelled the group to mainstream popularity:
And the sign said, the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls / and tenement halls
<- Sprayed on the walls and Victoria Embankment pavement, London 8.9.14
Just Do It is a trademark of the shoe company Nike, and one of the core components of Nike's brand. The slogan was coined in 1988 at an advertising agency meeting. Maybe London’s streets are really paved with gold? This is a saying that came from the 19th century story of Dick Whittington and his cat, loosely based on the 14th century Lord Mayor of London, Richard Whittington. The saying, which expresses the idea of a land of opportunity, is partly ironic, since Dick Whittington found when he went to London that the streets were in fact grimy and poverty stricken.
So where is today's innovation to be found? What is the ultimate secret or the ultimate answer?
I think that tradition embraces stability and rejects change. The tried and true, extrapolated into the future, often looks like a sure thing, while deviating from historical norms can look downright foolish. Yet the funny thing about the future is that there’s no guarantee that it will look like the past. Contexts change and when they do, old rules no longer apply. So how can we get a handle on this paradigm shift?
The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them.
– Mark Twain
Many of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs and innovators, make their fortunes because they have this amazing ability to understand market trends and what consumers will be buying in the short, medium and longer term. They are also able to take a look at when it's best to buy or invest into a particular industry and as Richard Branson once famously said, Business opportunities are like buses, there’s always another one coming.
Innovation and understanding new market trends are fundamental to a successful business and being able to spot them is not as hard as you think. It takes research, planning, being able to test your own thinking about consumer driven demand and comes back to the very basic human instinct; the motivation to own something. It also requires a lot of reading and watching. Let me outline why:
Innovation is fundamentally all about new ideas but, where do you go to learn about what’s worked in the past and what might work in the future?
Read and watch more.
How do you develop the intellect and the library of ideas on which to draw for innovation?
Read and watch more.
How do you cultivate your credibility and compete for the attention of venture capitalists or those who will sponsor your innovations?
Read and watch more.
Read and watch more is the secret to successful innovation and trend setting. It is also about understanding the difference between the innovation of an already existing product and your idea being so unique that it will revolutionise your industry. Look for these common themes that are emerging and keep an eye on everything that comes out of Hollywood, especially when it comes to science fiction. Remember the whooshing sound of the doors opening and closing in the original Star Trek series? Within the decade those types of doors had become the new norm in office blocks and apartment buildings the world over. Yes Sci-Fi is cool and you are not a geek.
Read and watch more across an ever widening spectrum of material. Do not self edit or self limit. Avoid the monoculture of one subject area, one author, one time period or one genre. Of course you have limited time. Human endeavour and the practice of it, has been recorded faithfully for generations and you have ready access to the real words of these very real people. Have you ever wondered how Benjamin Franklin could be so productive and how he balanced his time between politics, religion, science, writing, diplomacy and music?
As innovators, we really live in exciting times. We also live in an age of vast accessibility to knowledge and history that even our parents and grandparents could only dream of. Take advantage of it. Read and watch more now, more now than ever. It can expand your borders beyond the prison of an unexplored Life. Just Do It.
*Taken from the supercomputer, Deep Thought, specially built for this purpose. It takes Deep Thought 7½ million years to compute and check the answer, which turns out to be 42. (Deep Thought points out that the answer seems meaningless because the beings who instructed it never actually knew what the Question was). Douglas Adams was asked many times why he chose the number 42. Many theories were proposed, including that 42 is 101010 in binary code, that light refracts off water by 42 degrees to create a rainbow, that light requires 10 seconds to cross the diameter of a proton. Adams rejected them all. On 3 November 1993, he gave the definitive answer: The answer to this is very simple. It was a joke. It had to be a number, an ordinary, smallish number, and I chose that one. Binary representations, base thirteen, Tibetan monks are all complete nonsense. I sat at my desk, stared into the garden and thought '42 will do'. I typed it out. End of story.