Want to Innovate? Hang out with the Chimpanzees occasionally!

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The late, great Charlton Heston used to tell the following anecdote about his observations during the filming of the greatest movie ever made – the original Planet of the Apes. A large scale movie at the time with hundreds of extra’s of all different ethnic, religious, economic and gender backgrounds (and the largest makeup budget in Hollywood history!), nonetheless Heston observed:

“(During shooting breaks I noticed) an instinctive segregation on the set. Not only would the apes eat together, but the chimpanzees ate with the chimpanzees, the gorillas ate with the gorillas, the orangutans ate with the orangutans, and the humans would eat off by themselves. It was quite spooky”.

The following is an amalgam of various reports over the years by the ‘Big 4’ and others and it’s a summary of the question posed to over 1500 corporate, academic, and small scale innovators over the last 10 years: “What have been the most productive sources of innovation for you?”

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You’ll notice that “…other domains” tops the list.

Many others have made the same observation, either anecdotally or evidence based. As an example, Liz Alton, one of the technology and innovation writers I really admire, says “….breakthroughs occurred when we looked at how change happened in other domains and experimented with those ideas in a new context. It was here that I first learned to see that real innovation and big ideas happened when you brought together inspiration from different fields.”

Getting back to Charlton Heston, it’s an entirely natural and understandable instinct to surround yourself with people “just like me”. But – if you want to be a great innovator – instead of spending all your time with your gorilla friends, go hang out with the chimps occasionally!

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