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Innovation Insights
by Stephen Shapiro


Innovation Minute #22: Purposeful Tangents

We continue with the “Shift” part of the FAST Innovation Model (Focus, Ask, Shift, Test).

In the last few videos I shared why expertise is the enemy of innovation. Today I provide a powerful examples of innovation in action, along with a useful concept for driving breakthrough thinking.

Be sure to watch the previous videos!


In the last few videos, we talked about shifting your mindset and why expertise is the enemy of innovation. Today I want to talk about probably my favorite example.

There was a group in Houston called Pumps and Pipes. These are a group of cardiologists who get together on a regular basis with people from the gas pipeline industry. And what they do is they share what they know about the cardiovascular system and how it would apply to the transmission of gas and vice versa.

Now, think about it. These are not two random groups. These are purposely brought together. They share something in common. It is all about the transmission of fluid through a tube. So, these are purposeful groups.

And if you think about the types of things that could be solved through these types of alliances and have been solved, think about gas pipeline. A big problem with the gas pipeline industry is they crack, they break, and they leak. Trying to find the cracks and seal those cracks is very expensive. But if you get a paper cut, you don’t run to the doctor, the body seals itself. And based on studying the body, they’ve now created a coagulant ingredient that goes inside of gas pipelines to seal cracks.

I call this “A Purposeful Tangent.” Two groups coming together with a shared purpose…

Now, think about how you spend your time. I guess that most people, most of you, spend 100% of your time studying your areas of expertise. Whether it’s your functional expertise, like HR, finance or sales, or your industry expertise, like hospitality, banking or manufacturing. You go to training classes, you read books, you socialize with people who are also experts in your area of expertise. I would encourage you to take a percentage of your time, 10%, 20% of your time, and create a purposeful tangent. Spend time learning from people who aren’t in your industry or aren’t in your function, but are connected to what you do.

For example, I’ve spent the last 25 years focused on innovation. I found lately that in the world of innovation, there’s not a lot of innovation anymore, so I don’t go to a lot of innovation conferences unless I’m asked to speak. But I do spend a lot of my time now studying neuroscience, sports performance, and even magic.

Magic is one of my favorites because magic, is first of all, about understanding the brain and misdirection which is what we need to do in order to innovate. We need to screw up the brain, make it think differently. But it’s also about making the impossible possible. If you think about a typical innovator, we struggle just to make the possible, possible. Magicians can make the impossible possible all the time.

So, think about how you spend your time and take 10%, 20% or 30% of your time focused on a purposeful tangent. Learn from a different area of expertise.