When I first started to develop my idea of a heated glove, every day was a Freaky Friday. There was so much to learn and understand that I had to play a lot with ideas, materials and chemicals. It was exciting trying to find solutions to problems which more often than not, brought up more problems to solve. As the business developed and my focus moved on to building a company out of the ideas, the innovations took a back seat.
But my thirst for increasing my knowledge and playing with ideas in a wide variety of areas has always been a part of what I like doing. I would ask myself lots of questions like ‘What does the ultimate heated glove look like and how would it work?’. That gives you an amazing goal to aim for but also throws up a whole load of problems. Freaky Friday was designed to start to find answers to those problems. So I guess the reason why I do it is twofold: firstly, I wanted to keep the enjoyment of playing with ideas and keeping a real hands-on approach to what I like to call ‘serious play’; secondly, it gives you a real-time approach to the development of your products and brings the vision of the perfect product within reach. A quote I heard once said that ‘A dream is a dream. A goal is a dream with a plan’ and that’s what I like to think Freaky Fridays is. It helps draw the plan to achieve the dream.
Testing new ideas
The sort of things I do on Freaky Friday can vary. It’s a chance to read a lot of research papers I find throughout the week on a number of areas such as polymers, electricity, materials, nano-technology, physics and chemistry, etc. It’s also a chance to put some meat on some of my ideas and test them to see if they would work.
For example, I had been trying to think how a four-dimensional polymer circuit would work in the shape of a glove and had made some notes over a week or so. But it wasn’t until I took my children to the museum one Sunday that I had an amazing idea of how it could work. While they were playing in the fun zone during lunch, I sketched my ideas on a couple of napkins and took them home. It wasn’t until about two months later that I assigned a Freaky Friday to actually looking at it properly. The notes and designs I had made over the weeks made is much easier to actually put the thing together in a sketch over several pieces of paper and to then take some material and see it the idea would work. This is a real way of being able to answer some of the development questions and also finding problems that arise from it that also need to be solved.
The ideas laboratory
I have a study which is crammed full of books and in which there is a cupboard. In that cupboard there are a lot of sample materials, chemicals and electronics that I have collected and bought in anticipation of playing with them. I use these to have fun with the ideas I have. I try to think of what I might need to play in advance but quite often I find I need some more ‘toys’ to play properly, so will then source where I can get them. I’ve called and contacted companies from America, China to Scotland to ask about their products to see if they could fit in with my ideas. It’s great to be able to have a few minutes with their expertise.
I also always carry a notepad and pen with me and have one next to my bed. I’m always making notes or writing ideas down that can then be looked at on Freaky Fridays. A lot of these notes come from thought experiments I set myself which are basically asking yourself really difficult questions. When you have a teasing question in mind through the week, you begin to measure everything you see and hear in relation to it to see if it could provide a solution to the question. In this way, you don’t just look along one narrow path for an answer but have the whole variety of life in which an answer might come.
One particular breakthrough came last week when I had an idea for a product in mind but there was a huge stumbling block that stopped it from working. I spent the week thinking about what a solution would look like and what it would need to be able to do to work. Then last Freaky Friday I started searching online for some of the ideas and keywords from some of my answers to these questions and came across a solution being used in another industry. So I am now approaching them to see if a could have some samples in which to play with on another Freaky Friday.
When’s your ‘play’ day?
I think every company should have a ‘play’ day where they can work on ideas. When else are you to let you minds go wild and free the inhibitions you face from living in the business you are in? Think of companies like Google and Dreamworks whose whole buildings have a fun and playful element to them. Why can’t smaller companies be the same? It’s about reclaiming some of that innocent, childlike feeling you had when you started your company and having that fun, solution-focused approach to work that can be spread throughout your business.
What would it be like if every person in your company had the opportunity to share ideas, solve problems, draw the road map of the company or product? What would it be like if an R&D problem was posted throughout the company for people to help find a solution instead of being kept behind closed doors in the lab? What an environment that would be! And what ownership the people who worked there would have. So many up and coming companies are working this way to use all their resources, including, and most importantly, the human resource. Are you?
Photo credit: Anderson Mancini