Hydra, the Recipe for Innovation

According to Greek mythology, Hydra was a water monster with nine heads. Eight of these heads were mortal and the ninth immortal. Heracles (Roman = Hercules) was sent by Eurystheus to kill the Hydra. Every time Heracles cut off one of the serpent’s heads with his mace, however, the Hydra would regrow two new.

Even though the story is most likely just that, a story, it can serve perfectly to visualize a basic principle which can be employed to have more ideas and be more innovative.

The head symbolizes a thought process or an idea. You, the innovative mind, are Herakles and the mace represents some sort of activity.

An activity can mean writing it down, sketching the idea or creating a prototype, etc. So some form of doing or taking action. It can also mean to delegate the task of exploring an opportunity, work with a university (Capstone, Ph.D., etc) or discussing it with a team of open-minded colleagues.

Every time you take action, you allow your mind to let go of a thought it otherwise would try to process and view from different angles.

You can use Hydra to increase the flow of ideas in all situations from business ideas to vacation ideas. Because you just need a blank notebook to get started, you can do it everywhere, no matter whether you have a power supply or not.

The core of Hydra can also be found in other techniques, such as brainstorming. It can be used in slow-motion multitasking.

Practical Tip 1 – Be Prepared to Document

Keep a nice notebook (paper) and a pencil next to your bed to make a note whenever the muse visits. Don’t do it on loose sheets of paper. It doesn’t have the same effect and it gets messy fast. Leave space when you start with an idea by using the right sides only for example and write down dates whenever you add info.

Enterprises should provide online space where employees can propose ideas and collaborate with others (enterprise idea management platform). Employees throughout the company can join a project, not just a specific group.

You will see that over time the book with your ideas will get very full. You will go back to ideas you had years before and supplement them over time. I started with my books 9 years ago and got several hundred potential business and startup ideas.

It also happens from time to time that you see ideas you had in your book appear as actual products. Don’t worry about it, but take it as an “It can’t be too wrong what I’m thinking if some of the greatest minds have the same idea.” Try to learn from these occurrences how the innovator brought the topic to life.

Practical Tip 2 – Provide Environment

As an enterprise, plan some money for domain experts to provide a platform for further ideation (afterburner) of topics added to the enterprise idea management platform.

Allow departments to easily fund employee projects. Introduce an innovation currency (1 coin per person) for every employee which can be spent independently.

This fixes that some topics never get fixed due to the profit/loss responsibility of internally competing departments.

Practical Tip 3 – Learn to Sketch

Learn how to sketch. It is easier to add a small sketch to an idea than to describe it, especially when you want to communicate your idea in order to gain support for example in a management review presentation.

Practical Tip 4 – Provide Resources

Make room for innovation. If you are a company, I would highly encourage you to make room for your employees to explore better ways.

Give free access to equipment in their spare time such as servers, spectrum analyzers, motors, CNC machines, lathes or whatever you’re working with.

If employees have a good idea, encourage them, connect them with resources and give credit. Treat their ideas with respect and at an appropriate time, act as a sponsor / financial angel.

Practical Tip 5 – Rapid Prototyping

Automation and fast turn around is key. If you’ve left the initial stage (sketching, enriching) of the idea, being fast to iterate is key.

In the hardware world, this means rapid prototyping with 3D printing, 3D scanning, the use of a desktop CNC router, etc.

For software try either low code platforms or ecosystems with plenty of libraries and automate as much as possible.

Try to focus on “delivering” full cut-troughs through the stack to allow potential customers to test your product. This is where you should do hypothesis-driven testing at the latest. I prefer to already start it at the beginning.

Practical Tip 6 – Understand

Observe how others solved a problem. For example read patents and ask yourself why exactly it has been solved in a specific way.

Walking the world and try to discover “duct tape” whenever you see it you have an opportunity to make it better.

Ppractical Tip 7 – Do

Being passionate about doing. Most creativity comes when you don’t force it. Sell your TV 😉

Starting to identify patterns how products solve problems.

Practical Tip 8 – Analyze Value

Starting to ask what value something provides. Try simple things first. For example: I guess you know a wooden pencil with eraser. Write down what the elements do. Graphite, wooden core, metal clip, eraser and paint. Ask yourself why wood, how could it be solved otherwise and what other things you could do with it. Graphite could be used to draw an electrical circuit. Could it be used for additive manufacturing of a PCB? Gravity doesn’t play a role, so it could be used in space. The metal clip attaches the eraser to the core and provides the value not to be able to forget it. It connects create and delete. Where could principle be used as well?

Practical Tip 9 – Embrace Process

Creativity and innovation is about a process of finding improvements and better ways to provide value. Treat it with discipline and open your mind to alternatives.

Embrace the words “why, how, what”.

Leave a Reply