Gregor Mendel's work in cross-pollination was groundbreaking for the scientific community -- botany has never been the same. Applied as an interchange of knowledge, the principle has also done wonders for the business community and can be a key to your success.
Whether you're solving a problem, conceiving a new business or just trying to get some operational tips, studying outside of your industry (and even outside of the business world) can help you unlock creative ideas. So how do you get this cross-pollination started? I've found that everyday life is full of ideas that we can use to solve business problems if we just pay attention. Here's a personal example.
For a long time now, my publishing company has been working to be more environmentally friendly. The business of books is notoriously hard on the planet. But an idea to start doing some good came to me in two parts. The first was a TV commercial for a rental car company who is planting trees to make up for the pollution that comes from their cars. The second was a computer retailer who offered customers the chance to purchase a tree to help offset the carbon that comes from the construction and use of the new computer. In a matter of hours, both outside ideas hit me and I took its principle of planting trees to my business.
Earlier this month, we launched Tree Neutral (www.treeneutral.com), an initiative to offset the trees that we consume in the production of books. Starting this quarter, we will plant trees for every tree that is needed to create the pulp for our books. Now I'm not going to pretend that this will somehow save the world, but it is a start. We're currently working with others in the publishing world to join forces with us go Tree Neutral. This idea came from watching football and buying a computer online.
I try to surround myself with as many different ideas as possible. Here are a few of my practices:
I read several business magazines, as well as news, sports, woodworking, flyfishing and health journals. Your mind starts doing weird things if you go from an article on the Fed lowering rates to tying dry flies.
I listen to NPR and watch Fox News. I want to get as many different perspectives as possible on any given issue to see it from all sides, even if they're horribly biased.
When I get excited about a new topic, I surround myself in it. I join the trade associations, read every book I can get my hands on about it, and even tell Tivo to grab shows about it.
As you work to broaden your ideas, consider every source you can find to try to get a new perspective or a new thought process. Or maybe it's just an old idea applied in a new way to your situation. By actively processing and applying what you learn to what you know, you'll always have a well of new ideas and solutions to draw from. Don't be afraid to look beyond your industry or the business world to solve problems and find new opportunities.