Flood the House to Catch the Mouse

Imagine you were tasked with inventing a better mousetrap. Literally. A typical brainstorm session may yield incremental improvements in the spring or the bait or the construction materials or the packaging.

One common innovation mistake involves an over-commitment to a particular solution type. We envision a typical mousetrap and search for ideas to optimize the existing approach. But the most effective innovators do the opposite – they fall in love with the problem rather than a singular solution. They study the problem from every vantage point, using different lenses to explore bold new possibilities. They’re quick to let go of one approach in favor of a better one. They let their unbridled curiosity lead the way and are willing to challenge conventional thinking.

“Why does a mousetrap need to use a spring at all? What other ways are there to catch a mouse? How could a mouse be contained in a completely different way?” The more we allow our curiosity to wonder, the better. “What if we pumped water into the house and filled the entire house in order to flood the mice out?”

Of course we wouldn’t actually ruin an entire house with water, but perhaps we’d invent a mousetrap that catches mice in a water-based trap. The objective is to push traditional thinking far outside our normal boundaries. We can always dial it back later, but it’s far better to stretch the limits than get trapped in the gravitational pull of incrementalism.

Two weeks ago, the world lost one of the most prolific creativity researchers, best-selling author and professor of psychology at the University of Chicago Mihalyi Czikszentmihalyi. This legend famously said, “Creativity generally involves crossing the boundaries of domains. The most creative among us see relationships the rest of us never notice.”

The old expression, “Curiosity killed the cat” couldn’t be more useless and out of date. A more appropriate phrase in light of today’s competitive business climate would be, “A lack of curiosity killed the cat.” Or perhaps, “Curiosity helped the cat catch the mouse.”

Especially with your new patent-pending, revolutionary, groundbreaking water-based mousetrap.