6 Ways Waste Catalyzes Creativity

6 Ways Waste Catalyzes Creativity -

If no one is born a scientist, then where do good ideas come from? The metaphorical light-bulb goes off, but how? When? Sometimes it’s just about being in the right place at the right time. Other times, good ideas come from thinking about something for a really, really long time. With every idea born, there is a catalyst of creativity attached to it.

In a recent speaking event at the Tech Museum in San Jose, California, Ira Flatow, NPR radio and television journalist, shared a set of catalysts for creativity to help explain where ideas come from. There are six catalysts of creativity to think about when thinking about ideas and innovation.


Ira Flatow called this catalyst “the mother of innovation.” How does someone come up with such things:

  • Post-it notes
  • Water bottles that keep your water cold for 12 hours
  • Front facing cameras on cellphones
  • Microwaves
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn

These ideas all came from a need to eliminate waste:

  • Post-it notes: The need to keep your place in a book (Waste: Motion)
  • Hydroflasks: The need to have a cold water handy after a long hike (Waste: Defects)
  • Camera Phones: The need to not have your face cut off in photos when trying to center the camera while not being able to see the camera screen (Phew! You get it, right?) (Waste: Defects)
  • Microwaves: The need to quickly reheat food (Waste: Waiting)
  • Facebook: The need to keep up to date with your college besties (Waste: Waiting)
  • LinkedIn: The need to showcase yourself in a digital world (Waste: Non-Utilized Talent)

Now go back and think about all those times that you said, “Wouldn’t it be cool if…

Great ideas come from a need. Can you think of a Waste that can be eliminated in a product or service you frequently use?

8 Wastes -


This is really important. You don’t have to be a scientist to be an inventor. You don’t even have to be highly educated or a college graduate. In our daily lives, many of us are asked to create new ideas. As a child, you were asked to figure out what 2×2 was (who knows, you may have an original way to solve this now) or today, you could be asked to help a client create a new process in their accounting department. Whatever it is, studies from the field of creativity research show that people need a certain time to mentally unload all the first ideas that come to mind. So take your time no matter who you are or where you are. Set yourself an idea target and time and have at it!


People just “come up” with creative ideas at the drop of a dime. I always wondered about those people…

If you want to create moments of inspiration, you have to cultivate them. Look intently at things that inspire you until you draw connections. Then, hold on to those feelings to create. Find inspiration in each day by being mindful of what surrounds you. Take Eddie Van Halen for an example, he took a stringed musical instrument and angled it’s orientation 90 degrees to allow himself to create new techniques and sounds previously unknown to any player.

Van Halen - Dinosaur Rock Guitar -
Photo Credit: Dinosaur Rock Guitar

Need another example? Michael Jackson’s moonwalking shoes! You didn’t really think he could forward lean like that without falling, did you? In order to accomplish his famous forward lean, Michael Jackson invented a special shoe with a slotted heel which slid onto bolts that protruded from the floor.

United States Patent Image - Ani Gravity Illusion -
Photo Credit: United States Patent Office


Despite my vision, not everyone believes in my ideas and they’re not always going to believe in yours either. Maybe you see things differently than I do and that’s okay!

When you have a vision, see it through. When it comes to what you see, don’t just make the product or thing and be done. As Flatow mentioned, “invent an entire process.” Steve Jobs did this with Apple. He created a simple, user-friendly system from top down. He gave you a store to shop in, music to download, a storage application on your desktop or laptop, then he gave you a device to load up with your music and take everywhere you go. That’s a system. A simply done yet extraordinary system.


Some people have more of this than others.

When it comes to determination, it’s about wanting to do something, not having to do it. In 2013, Richard Branson was asked, “Is self-motivation an innate quality or is it something that can be learned and improved upon?” Richard’s response was a long one but determination was key in his response, “…The ability to tap into your determination and grit is not just an innate skill.” You can teach yourself to get up and go to work everyday, but your determination to give the job everything you’ve got every day is the difference.”


There will always be an element of luck in the innovation process. Looking back at the history of many major innovations and the end result often owes something to the catalyst of luck. “Lucky for us, we launched the product at the right time,” or “It was luck that we tested the process one more time.” Remember those things called Post-It Notes I mentioned before? The basis for the little squares of colorful, paper was a reusable, pressure-sensitive adhesive invented by 3M chemist Dr. Spencer Silver. One day, Silver’s colleague Art Fry decided to use the sticky stuff to anchor a bookmark to his hymnal. The Post-It note was born.


Luck clearly happens.

What other catalysts of ideas and creativity come to your mind? Tell me what catalysts are missing below! Also, do you believe any one of these catalysts yields the best ideas?

Learn more about Waste and how to remove it from your life by registering for our Yellow Belt Training, Green Belt Training, or Lean Training!

Jurija is the Client Experience Manager at and provides extraordinary support to our clients to ensure their Lean Six Sigma process improvement journeys are easier and more streamlined every step of the way.

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