Everything starts with an idea. That’s why to buck this trend we can start by looking in some unconventional places for the inspiration to innovation. Fresh ideas are always a product of a little imagination, and nothing stimulates the imagination more than some international exploration. In part one of our series, Spurring Innovation, we look beyond our borders for some fuel to spark the next wave of innovation.

They say that necessity is the mother of invention, so in places where they don’t have much, there tends to be a lot of innovation. In the heart of many second- and third-world countries, where people continuously rely on their own resourcefulness and creativity simply to survive, lies a wealth of inspiration for new ideas that can kick-start our innovation engine.

Simply strolling through a market in South America or taking a walk through an African village can provide enough inspiration to create a whole new product or redefine the way a service is delivered. Two great examples of innovation from abroad are the Veleropompe, (shown below) a bicycle mounted over a well to pump water for locals in Senegal, and the Aravind eye clinic in India, considered to be “the largest and most productive eyecare facility in the world.” Both are great models and provide amazing examples of how limited resources can fuel the creative fire to forge new inventions, both big and small.

With the world becoming increasingly globalized everyday, the benefits of looking outside the normal frame of reference for ideas are priceless; after all, it is precisely these markets that we need to be selling to in the future. India, China, Brazil, Africa and a host of other emerging nations will drive more demand for our products than our neighbors to the south in the not-so-distant future.

Naturally, not everyone can take a trip beyond just to get their imagination going, so here are a couple of great websites to check out that keep track of/highlight innovative ideas from the world at large, including:

• Springwise: www.springwise.com
IDEO Patterns: http://patterns.ideo.com/

There are, however, more than just ideas that we can gain from outside our own borders. Recently, a study was released by the Conference Board of Canada touting the number of different ways immigrants have had a positive impact on innovation in Canada. Among other things, immigrants have been linked to stimulating trade, patentable ideas and work ethic among companies in Canada. These benefits can be attributed to the fresh thinking and diversity that any immigrant brings to the table. For any company that is able to integrate immigrants into the team, the payoff can be enormous.

Take Hadi Mohabadi, Vice-President at the Xerox Research Centre in Canada. Hadi immigrated to Canada in the 80’s from Iran and was offered a job by Xerox that included on-the-job English training. Hadi, who personally holds over 70 patents, believes that “when you have a diverse group of people brainstorming you come up with more and better ideas.” He oversees a workforce of 89 researchers, many of whom are immigrants, who in total generate approximately 140 patentable ideas each year. Since they launched their “Diversity of Thought” initiative in 2004, they have seen a 17% year-over-year increase in the number of patents created.

Overall, looking beyond our borders for both talent and ideas can have a tremendous impact on the long-term future of our economy. Whether it is a social, technological or economic innovation, it all starts from an idea.

Check out “Part II: Failure is a Misnomer” in our series on Spurring Innovation, as we dig into some of the misconceptions behind the concept of failure and look at why it’s important to focus on learning from the process instead of the outcome.

Intro: Bucking the Trend – Spurring Innovation in Canada

Part III: Catalyzing Creativity and Breaking Down Silos

Part IV: Design Thinking and Business Model Innovation – A Dynamic Duo

Part V – Let the Market be your Guru

Part VI – Does Wesley Clover have it right?

Summary: Saddle Up and Go

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