How to Boost Innovation by Recycling Existing Ideas

Recycling Existing IdeasWhen it comes to innovation, businesses can often find it seemingly impossible to generate completely new ideas. In these early stages of product development, it can sometimes seem like all of the good ideas have already been taken. However, maybe we don’t need completely new ideas; simply a reinvention of an old classic.

Mark Twain famously said in his autobiography ‘Chapters From The North’ that;

“There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages”.

When you apply this train of thought to innovation, it becomes apparent that some of the most successful products and services in human history were developed by recycling existing ideas.

Take the iPod for example. First launched in October 2001, Apple‘s portable music device has revolutionised how we all listen to and download music. However, what you may not know is that the iPod was initially devised by recycling an existing idea.

After all, the first portable MP3 players hit the market in 1998 and by 2001 there were over 50 different models available through which you could download and play music from your computer. What Apple did with the iPod was reinvent an existing idea; they took the core concept of an MP3 player, scrutinised the complaints that consumers had about these cumbersome and inadequate MP3 devices, and developed a new product which remedied these solutions. As Bill Fischer highlights in his ‘Innovating The iPod’ article;

“The goals articulated by the leadership were surprisingly simple, broad yet precise. For the hardware: A thousand songs in your pocket; for the software: so easy that your Mother could do it; and for the project: and on the shelves in eight months! The team could get to work without feeling constrained by the way the vision was presented – they were both totally focused and liberated at the same time!”.

The end result was a 6.5 ounce device with a 5GB hard drive that could hold 66 hours of music. This lightweight, technologically proficient reinvention of existing MP3 players was an global phenomenon that has since sold more than 400 million units since 2001.

One of the fundamental aspects of the iPod‘s success was Apple‘s ability to recycle existing ideas and expand upon them. Businesses can deploy these same principles within their own innovation strategies. First and foremost you need to identify the most popular product or service which currently exists within your field of industry and then scrutinise its strengths and weaknesses. In the case of the iPod, Apple were able to take the benefits of a portable music player and remedy the key consumer complaints such as inefficient storage space, cumbersome hardware and confusing user interfaces.

Similar innovation strategies can be noted within all fields of industry; from the technology sector to the entertainment industry. For instance, horror director George Romero is heralded by many as the innovator of the modern horror genre due to his iconic movie franchise Night of the Living Dead (1968-2009). Regarded by many moviegoers as the progenitor of modern zombie shows such as The Walking Dead, what you may not know is that Romero actually created his iconic ‘living dead’ monsters by recycling key archetypes from existing horror movies. As British actor Simon Pegg explained whilst reflecting upon Romero’s legacy;

“Romero adopted the Haitian zombie and combined it with notions of cannibalism, as well as the viral communicability characterised by the vampire and werewolf myths and so created the modern zombie”.

In this manner Romero was able to analyse the core principles of conventional movie monsters such as a vampire or werewolves, ascertain the key aspects of what made them scary, take out the tired clichés that moviegoers would expect, and create something new that would truly shock and captivate viewers in equal measure. The end result was a critical and commercial success; transforming a small-scale film with a $114,000 budget into a iconic viewing experience which grossed $12 million domestically and $18 million internationally; thus earning over 150 times its budget!

The success of Romero’s Night of the Living Dead franchise is a shining example to businesses that you do not need a massive budget to recycle existing ideas and boost innovation. Irrespective of whether you manage a start-up or a large corporation, the concept of recycling existing ideas can be achieved by carrying out targeted research within your field of industry, scrutinising the key principles of existing ideas and ascertaining their strengths and weaknesses. This practice can be achieved through brainstorming sessions which will enable you to generate a list of possible products and services which you can then test by presenting them to focus groups, conducting feedback surveys and holding one-on-one interactions with your target market.

This is where IdeaScale can help. The idea management platform utilizes crowdsourcing so that your business can suggest possible product ideas to an actively engaged community who will vote and comment upon the effectiveness of your ideas. By taking advantage of this streamlined innovation process, you can evaluate, enhance, and prioritize the ideas which are best suited for implementation in a cost-effective and highly efficient manner.

With studies showing that more than 85% of the best global brands have used crowdsourcing in the last ten years, taking advantage of these crowdsourcing resources can help your business to stay one step ahead of your industry rivals.

Ultimately, by carrying out targeted research, devising new ideas and testing them out using IdeaScale, you can efficiently take an old idea and recycle it into something with which your clients will actively want to engage and recommend to others. If you would like to learn more about the ways in which your business can boost innovation by recycling existing ideas, please do not hesitate to contact our IdeaScale team today and to subscribe to our IdeaScale mailing list.


This is a guest post authored by Amber Tanya, a writer from Kent, England. Miss Tanya has worked as a ghost writer servicing multiple international news and automotive publications. Miss Tanya also holds a First Class Honours degree in English Literature from an esteemed British University. She primarily writes technological, travel and scientific articles but is versatile and enjoys writing across a broad range of other topics. You can contact Miss Tanya at [email protected] Miss Tanya can produce outstanding content upon request and can adapt her writing style to suit the tone of your brand.

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