We can fly to trade shows, sign up for conferences, stage group brainstorms and stay up all night doing research. But more often than not, the best ideas come when we least expect them.
That was the case for David Akridge, Chief Information Officer of Mobile County Public School District. He was helping his daughter plan her wedding when he had a realization that would completely revolutionize security in buildings throughout the community.
But let’s first go back even further. The concept began to form in his mind when he attended a trade show a few years back. He was talking to a lighting expert who demonstrated how certain bulbs could change colors, creating “cool” or “warm” tones in hallways and classrooms. Which, by the way, is no small undertaking: Many schools have maintained the exact same lighting setups for decades, which is why so many look exactly as they did in 1985.
Akridge had an idea. What if the lighting could change colors to verbally convey urgent messaging -- most importantly, red for an emergency? He got a firm answer: “We can’t do that.” No one had ever suggested the idea of “school security digital lighting,” there was no active demand for it, and so it just didn’t exist. Or so Akridge was told.
But not long later, while working on his daughter’s wedding, he rented a set of beacon lights, which allow the operator to manually change the filters to create different colors. Pardon the obvious pun, but it was like a light switched.
“I was like, Someone makes this,” he recalled to Industry Weapon during our Business Impact Workshop. “And if they don’t, they can. Someone can make this lighting system.”
The technology, Akridge understood in that moment, already existed. It was being utilized in a totally different way than how he wanted to use it, but it was very much available. It simply wasn’t branded.
There are countless entrepreneurs and inventors out there, all trying to make a name for themselves with different branded products, all specifically designed to market to certain industries. But a truly creative thinker understands crossover: Adapting one form of technology to fit the needs of a completely different situation.
Take this entire scenario. Akridge redesigned an existing concept to solve an issue within the education sector. But the exact same product -- digital lighting that changes colors -- could be used in endless ways for endless sectors. And that’s just one type of product.
It’s in no way a personal failure when we acknowledge that other people have come up with some great ideas. Their innovations exist to spawn new ones. When we combine one product with another, or develop a different way to use a product, or even combine dozens of products and blend them all together -- we’re able to produce something highly customized and niche. And that’s an incredible thing.
Trade shows, conferences, brainstorms, research: These are all invaluable methods for generating incredible ideas. But when a concept starts brewing in your mind at an unexpected time, listen to it. Where is it coming from? How can you use already-existing technology to achieve it?
The tech is out there. It’s unbelievable, and a lot of it is totally unbranded, just waiting for the right entrepreneur to figure out how to use it.