Anyone in either sales or marketing has had days where if they felt like if they heard “new and improved” just one more time, their head would just explode. It’s a common phrase, perhaps too common. The two words are generally used together, as if something new was required to also be “improved” as well. Culturally, we’re inundated with the idea that old is bad, new is better, and “new and improved” is best. In many cases, this may be true, but there is also a new trend toward recycling and re-purposing that may well have a place in business thinking, as well.
This is not to say that new things aren’t great. The ipad trade in value last thirty years have seen new developments that have literally changed how we work, play, read, even how we think. New technology has impacted every area of our lives. The Internet. Power locks on car doors. First desktop computers, then laptops, and now tablets. Party-line home phones have given way to handheld smart phones. The list is nearly endless, and varied.
Innovation has become the norm, rather than something unusual. People wait in line for days for the latest smart phone release from their favorite manufacturer, rather than waiting to hear how the model performs and then think about getting one. A new release of a video game is a media event. “Early adopters” have become a significant target segment of all markets, to the point where the title is a misnomer. They’re not “early adopters” anymore; they’re just consumers.
So amidst all this innovation, what use can there be in lateral thinking? Like things that aren’t “new and improved,” lateral thinking has gotten a bit of a bad rep. Lateral moves in jobs aren’t as great as promotions or new positions. Lateral growth doesn’t sound as exciting as “expansion.” And yet, there is power in lateral thinking, and it can lead to growth, and development, and positive change.
A simple example: recently, a friend, one of those “early adopter” types who happens to work in retail, told me a story that illustrates the power of lateral thinking. My friend recently got the latest iPad, and was trying to show a co-worker one of the nifty new apps he’d downloaded. He looked at the counter, which happens to use iPads for advertising displays, but the tablets were all bolted into the stands, and the stands to the counter, for security. Smart idea, but no good to him at that moment. A floor standing model was also within reach, with the store directory displayed, but this one was locked to the stand with a cable lock. No go there, either. As my friend looked around, his co-worker – an absolute Luddite who probably couldn’t tell an iPad from an iPod under torture – reached over to a paperback book displayed on a small easel, removed the book, and shoved the easel across the counter at my friend.