• Otávio Santiago

To Change the Way You Think, Change the Way You See

“Think Different,” said the famous 1997 Apple advertisement. Excellent advice, obviously, to all creators, innovators, and entrepreneurs.

But, along with thinking differently in order to come up with revolutionary new ideas or products, there is also seeing differently. Great creators, innovators, and entrepreneurs look at the world in ways that are different from how many of us look at things. This is why they see opportunities that other people miss.

The story of Velcro is well known. A Swiss engineer, George de Mestral, decided to look more closely at the burrs (seeds from plants) he found clinging to his clothing after a walk in the woods. He took out his microscope and saw that nature had designed hooks on the burrs, which had then attached themselves to looped fibers in his clothing. The famous hook-and-loop alternative to the zipper, under the name Velcro, was born. (Today, there is a whole field, called biomimetics, devoted to imitating nature in order to solve human problems.)

Less well known, but equally deserving of fame, is the story of Softsoap. An American entrepreneur, Robert Taylor, decided to look more closely at how bars of soap actually appeared once unwrapped and used in bathrooms. Zooming in on the soap dish in an otherwise spotless setting, he saw an unpleasant puddle of ooze. He decided that the answer was liquid soap dispensed in a beautiful pump dispenser, and this is how Softsoap, which changed the entire soap industry, was born.

Two brilliant entrepreneurs who looked at things differently. Whether through a microscope or a zoom lens, and whether literally or metaphorically, they took the key step of looking at the familiar in an unfamiliar way. The great French mathematician Blaise Pascal said: “Small minds are concerned with the extraordinary, great minds with the ordinary.” It seems he had in mind something similar: Look at what is right in front of us, but look in a way that escapes most people.

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