Pull Your Inspiration From a Different Box – Week 6

It was a rainy day in 1962 when a man named Bob Kearns made an unplanned innovation in a product that you and I use frequently: windshield wipers. Although the windshield wiper sounds like a simple idea (to us), the original rendition actually caused a safety problem for drivers. Up until Bob Kearns had his epiphany, windshield wipers operated at two constant speeds: low, and high. There wasn’t a pause in between wipes like there is now, which resulted in a mesmerizing affect on the drivers – which, in turn, caused more collisions during rain. And this is the exact innovation that Bob Kearns had: make the wiper blades pause after each repetition.

Where did Bob Kearns pull this idea from?

“Why can’t the windshield wiper blink?” thought Kearns, comparing the wiper blades to human eyelids. Most of the time, our eyes are open – there is no need to blink for the same duration of time that we have our eyes open, and the same is true for vehicles during rain. By pulling the concept of blinking from nature into the automotive realm, Kearns had transferred inspiration “between boxes.” Remember how we are supposed to “think outside of the box”? This is exactly what that adage means: pulling inspiration from a different box than the box were the problem exists.

This is why fresh perspectives can be critical

When a person is exposed to a certain set of norms and standards, their ideas will reflect and draw from this environment. For example, we know that “activist investors” are a certain group of people who invest into a failing business with the aim of bringing new insight and solutions to the company’s plight. The business needs this outside force because the leadership has been in the same corporate environment for so long that they are no longer capable of having an objective look at their operations and strategy. Simply put, they’ve lived in one box all their careers and that one box is all that they know. If solutions to problems their problems exist, these leaders will never know. Instead, finding these solutions will require a new leader who brings fresh experience from a different box (aka, the activist investor).

Just like Bob Kearns and activist investors, you can bring fresh insight, too

I want to challenge you and I to not simply think outside of “the box”, but also be willing to pull from as many boxes as possible. Everyone has a box that they live in, to one degree or another, and by using people as a resource to find fresh perspectives we can innovate on a much greater level. Remember that you don’t have to bring 100% of the fresh perspective to your problem – that’s what teams are for. Make a list of the skills, talents and boxes that your friends live in, then recruit them for help when you need a problem solved while also making yourself available to them.

Remember, Bob Kearns was not an auto company employee. But that didn’t stop him from innovating a breakthrough idea. The same goes for you: you may not have as much experience as some of the people deeply entrenched in an industry, but don’t let that stop you from bringing a fresh perspective to the table.


Seabrook, John (1993). The Flash of Genius. NewYorker.com. Retrieved from http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1993/01/11/the-flash-of-genius

What did you think? Leave some feedback! :)

9 thoughts on “Pull Your Inspiration From a Different Box – Week 6

  1. Austin,
    Great posting. I like the concept “pulling from other boxes.” I remember sitting in a small business seminar at the local community college and the presenter started talking about a similar concept. However, his overall presentation was about getting the most out of your product or service. For example, a company that aides in tree and stump removal, what are they doing with the trees and stumps that are removed? They have the option to chop and sell firewood or they can chop it into mulch. They can also have a landscaping portion of the business for repairing gaping holes or land damaged by adverse weather. Plus, they can see what competitors are offering and capitalize on their weaknesses by offering a better product, at a fair price, and be a one stop location.

  2. Austin,
    Always enjoy your posts.

    To your pulling from other boxes, I would add eyes wide open. More eyes, different things are seen which can create new companies from waste, space and temporary unemployment.

    In the food industry we see people coming to the industry and changing it all the time. Years ago, all we did is throw food scraps away and now we have composting programs at universities, restaurants and hotels.In some cities extra food is able to be donated to some 501C3s depending upon state laws. There are food service operations with bee hives on their roofs, producing their own honey to use in the kitchen, sell and/or give as an amenity. One hotel started using rendered animal fat to make soap, again it was sold at the hotel and used as an amenity. Food pop ups are one of the biggest trends. Chefs are using time in between restaurants due to construction or job switching to pop up in unusual spaces and offer meals of varying degrees. Some people actually started doing pop ups at their homes and became so popular they had to open a brick and mortar.

    I wish someone would come up with a windshield wiper that stayed on the glass. There’s always one spot it misses.


  3. Pull Your Inspiration From a Different Box – Week 6

    Yes, pulling from different boxes is so true in many situations.
    I real estate I know that new ideas and concepts are always so important.
    If your the first in the area to do something different you will benefit from it until others copy you.
    It is so important in Real Estate and many other industry’s to be the first with a new idea and as others copy your success switch to another stradogy.
    Great blog

  4. Nice post, Austin! I appreciate the perspective you bring to the table here – we get so wrapped up in the creation of new ideas and concepts, that sometimes we forget to call on our most valuable resource – each other! Giving team members a clear voice, and encouraging frequent brainstorming can mean the difference between stagnation and progress. It’s amazing the changes I have seen in processes and procedures when managers give their employees a voice or opinion in the matter.

  5. Austin great post! I actually had the opportunity to do the movie review on Bob Kearns. I think Bob was indeed was a innovative genius and made something that was already a pretty decent product, but made it better. The thought he put in to the design and the effort he made to make sure his dream and vision wasn’t lost to the giant Ford was amazing. Bob deserved more than the 10,000,000 he claimed in the end.

    Great Post

  6. Great post! It’s crazy to think of all the things we love, someone had to come up with the ideas. And, thinking outside, around, and in between the boxes made it all happen. I like to say “team work, makes the dream work”. Right? It’s so true. You may not have a team of members or employees, but like you said recruit your friends for advice and help. Offer your special talents to your friends, be the outside of the box for them.

  7. Austin,
    Great post! It is refreshing to read this post. I agree humans do live within a box to a degree- whatever we are accustom to ; we tend to rely on the resource. However, as you mentioned when we reached into different boxes- we tend to surround ourselves with different people from different backgrounds, cultures and we are introduced to a new world – new rules. Likewise, when we know better- we do better. Thank you for this- great info!

  8. Although I was somewhat familiar with the story, I saw this movie for the first time in he last month and loved it. His perseverance was amazing.

    I agree that getting outside of your own head — outside the box — is critical as an entrepreneur. To your point, fresh perspectives open doors to thinking we might have long since closed. Sometimes all it takes is a walk in the woods to clear the head and open those doors. Other times, it might mean tackling a new problem or task completely outside of what you might do day-to-day.

    How much to you think the lens with which we view the world–our accumulation of experiences and knowledge–influence our ability to get outside-of-the-box?

  9. I think as a stand alone entrepreneur it is sometimes hard to reach outside of your box until the business gets going (my old school, competitive nature). I mean, if you have a good idea, why wouldn’t someone steal it? It has happened before, and I’m sure it will happen again. One the business is up and running, reaching out to the team, friends, and family will help with product development and bouncing zany ideas off of them!!

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