Look at the past (1/3) – New opportunities for old ideas

New opportunities for old ideas

When thinking about change and progress, most of us will recognise the importance of new technologies and developments. Blogs, seminars and magazines on the latest technological achievements and trends are a cherished source of inspiration. But how often do you consult history books when looking for ways to innovate your business?

As I stressed before, any aspiring creative needs to have (or develop) a broad interest. When searching for innovative solutions, history books are probably not at the top of your list. But perhaps they should be. Creative solutions that have proven to be effective in the (long forgotten) past, can sometimes be equally valuable in a completely new situation.

Some ideas that were successful in the past can now even be employed with more success than ever. Technological progress can make good ideas even better.


In 1867 Emperor Napoleon III offered a prize to anyone who would deliver him a suitable replacement for butter. He sought a less expensive, yet tasty and long-lasting alternative to provide his army with and to feed the poor. French chemist Hippolyte Mège-Mouriès won the competition. He delivered the desired substance, which would later be called margarine.

Thanks to technological developments challenges like these are now more popular than ever. Pitches and ‘battles’ are widespread and often lead to remarkable inventions. The internet has made it easier than ever to reach out to hundreds of thousands to help you solve your problem. Various forms of ‘crowdsourcing’ are deployed for both social challenges (on sites like grandchallenges.org and Open IDEO) and for achieving company goals. Sites like designboom invariably manage to get a huge response, with thousands of submissions per briefing.

What old ideas have renewed value for you, thanks to technological developments? 

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Nightmare CompetitorsBiomimicry, using nature as a tool for innovation.