Innovation Inspiration #021—Research a Lot; Write a Little

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The past few days, I’ll bet I haven’t appeared to be very productive.

But only because all the real work was going on in my head, not yet ready to travel through my fingers to the printed page.

It’s called research, and I’ll have much more to say about it a few posts down the line.

… Suffice it to say, however, that in the course of my research, I’m gaining a much deeper appreciation for the couple of techie friends I have who have been lucky enough in their careers to do pure research, and why they yearn for the return to times when corporations understand its value.

Over the past two or three days, I’ve spent countless hours surfing the web, taking apart the espresso machine an old friend gave me, and watching YouTube videos. (In other words, I was practicing Rule #7.) Every last bit of it was directly work related, done with a purpose in mind. (Yes, even fiddling with the espresso machine; and no, I can’t share why.)

And what do I have to show for all this hard work? One short e-mail, and one minimalist bullet-point outline. Yet I was quite pleased with this volume, and the initial results.

For some types of innovation, quality matters much more than quantity. And in this case, the writing assignments are simple only in the brevity of their phrasing. They were both of the form, “Please write a use case about how company a can use our technology to innovate in market b.”


In both cases, company a is a large multinational corporation with long-standing research divisions (but take note of paragraph 3, above), and has been involved in market b since the first hours after the company was founded (which wasn’t even as recently as the previous century).

How am I, without an engineering degree in their fields (or any at all), going to tell them how to innovate in their own fields of founding?

By a) believing that I can, and b) thinking like a science-fiction writer. And b involves a lot of Rule #7.

I didn’t quite know enough to write either paper as late as yesterday, but I think I will by mid-day today, and it might only take an hour each, since the prose is already starting to form in the gray matter.

Yet even in the brief outline form, the first concept helped someone at the first company (who leads one of the research arms) realize that we are the missing link they’ve been looking for.

Hearing that report yesterday made me smile, and be thankful that I work for people that appreciate my talents enough to let me work in the way I find most fit and productive.

The second concept is still rising, so not even half-baked yet, but I am quite sure that I will know when it is ready to have the same effect on the other company.

I’ll have much more to say about how to do this type of lazy research in a future post, but one element is simple: spend a lot of time looking for what people have done already, so that you don’t waste time solving solved problems, and so that you recognize when one of your ideas is likely unique. That simple concept accounted for the vast majority of my research yesterday.

The purpose of this post is not to brag about yesterday’s success, but to demonstrate by firm example to other creative types like me (read: people who don’t think like everybody else) that trying to work in the same manner everyone else around you is likely not the best way to leverage your talent.

Now, if you excuse me, I need to let my fingers rest, for I think they’re going to be very busy interfacing with Word shortly.

Author: Peter Sheerin

Peter Sheerin is best known for the decade he spent as the Technical Editor of CADENCE magazine, where he was the acknowledged expert in Computer-Aided Design hardware and software. He has a long-standing passion for improving usability of software, hardware, and everyday objects that is always interwoven in his articles. Peter is available for freelance technical writing and product reviews, and is exploring career opportunities in interaction design. His pet personal project is exploring the best ways to harmonize visual, tactile, and audible symbols for improving the effectiveness of alerting systems.

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