Sometimes, Creepy Is Good
At a patent development ideation session the other day, where we were developing interesting new forward thinking disruptive ideas, someone used the “creepy” to describe one of the ideas. When words like creepy come into the conversation, then you know you are making good progress coming up with something disruptive.
When ideas start getting too creepy, or “edgy”, I tell the story about the scientist who hadn’t taken a shower for 12 years (probably more than that by now). While he washed his hands, he hadn’t had a shower for twelve years. He had invented a bacterial spray that kills unhealthy bacteria and introduces healthy bacteria for humans. He would spray it on himself daily (or more often depending on circumstances) and the bacteria in the spray would eat the negative bacteria on him that the smell and dirt inducing bacteria, and then introduce healthful bacteria.
I first read this story when he had been interviewed on Today show. There were a couple of other articles about him and all the articles were played for disgust: isn’t this gross and horrible that this guy hadn’t had a shower for twelve whole years. Isn’t it awful? Who would want to do something like this?
However, when they talked to people who worked with him they said that he smells like a normal person. He doesn’t smell off, or rank, or anything for that matter. The spray works.
He came up with the spray as an experiment because he realized that there was a chance that we would be undergoing a water crisis soon and he wanted to save water.
He predicted that at some point in the future we would have issues with water, which is exactly what has happened in places like California, where we’ve had a drought for the last four years, which was only just alleviated this year. There’s plenty of places in the world where water is very scarce and using it to bathe ourselves is probably big waste when we should be drinking it.
The interesting thing about this is that when people hear about this story a lot of people feel uncomfortable. But if you think about it, this is what disruptive innovation is all about. Getting out of your comfort zone. Thinking outside the safe little box we are in.
If we go through a period where water becomes scarce then this invention is probably going to be worth a lot of money and would be a huge deal. It may even be a billion dollar business.
It may feel weird and creepy and disruptive but it may very well be the future of showering. I can foresee a time when if we do have issues with water that this spray becomes something that we all have in our home. Instead of stepping into a shower and being blasted by water until we’re clean, we step into a shower and we get sprayed in this fine bacterial mist that this scientist has created. If you can imagine multiple generations of improvements to this formula over time, there is no reason to foresee why this wouldn’t be the future of showering. Eventually, the formula would be so potent and we would feel and be just as clean as we would be if we were in a shower of water. Maybe even better, since the spray could introduce beneficial bacteria (or even nanobots) which could conceivably make us even healthier than if we just had a water shower.
When you feel uncomfortable, when you feel a little edgy when you hear the word “creepy” then it’s likely that the ideas that you’re generating are something that’s innovative and on the edge and disruptive. When you hear the words “Well I’m not so sure that we want to go there” then you’re probably on the right track of generating ideas that are innovative. Don’t shy away from those kinds of ideas: those are exactly the kind of ideas that unlock innovation.
You may not specifically want to go ahead and develop that specific creepy idea today. It may not even be something that you would be able to develop tomorrow. However, if it pushes the envelope of your thinking, then you are on the right track.
Sometimes these creepy, edgy, disruptive ideas are not only uncomfortable, they skirt the edges of ethics or bend or break the law as it is today. Some industries, like the cable industry, or even ride-sharing services, were born in that “legal vacuum” where there were no specific laws to bar what they’re doing. Once they’ve launched and there are people trying to bar it, that likely makes the idea even more disruptive.
While these ideas that are a little bit edgy maybe they’re the bend or break some ethical or moral code it doesn’t mean you should stop thinking about them. However, some variation of those ideas may be worthwhile.
Either way, if you feel upset or uncomfortable about the ideas floating around in your ideation sessions, you may be on the absolute right track to breakthrough new ideas.
Chris is a prolific inventor (60+ patents), exceptional innovator (headed internal banking, retail and technology innovation programs), experienced technologist, serial entrepreneur and futurist.
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