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Little Find

The idea machine

How could it be possible to file 500 patents a year and generate 36 ideas for inventions in the course of a single dinner? Was it at a colossal research and development center? In fact, it’s a company called Intellectual Ventures (IV), which at the outset involved just eight people.

How could only eight people generate so many ideas in such a short space of time? Here are some of the practices they used that may inspire you: 

  • The members of IV are experts in a wide range of fields (physics, statistics, IT, etc.) with unlikely hobbies, such as looking for dinosaur fossils. This means they can cross-reference information from a vast range of disciplines. 
  • They do their homework. Before meeting to brainstorm in so-called “invention sessions,” IV members make a list of patents that have recently been filed and read dozens of scientific articles from all fields. They start with large quantities of resources that they then cross-check and hybridize.  
  • They like to ask themselves, “What if …?” “What if we invented a filter for cancer cells that could be placed in a blood vessel?,” which they then submit to experts in various fields. Some of these lines of investigation turn out to be fruitful.  
  • They don’t set goals for themselves. They are freethinkers who give themselves permission to switch from one subject to another, relying on the serendipity of discussion and debate. 

Their modus operandi sometimes have next to nothing in common with the best practices advocated in business, but their results speak for themselves. 

To go further

In the air

bt Malcolm Gladwell (The New Yorker, 5 may 2008).

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Françoise Tollet
Published by Françoise Tollet
She spent 12 years in industry, working for Bolloré Technologies, among others. She co-founded Business Digest in 1992 and has been running the company since 1998. And she took the Internet plunge in 1996, even before coming on board as part of the BD team.