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The Road to Inspiration
Screw caps and reality TV.

                         by Kyle Potvin
Principal, Splash Communications, LLC

Kyle PotvinLong live screw caps on wine. Serious wine connoisseurs may cringe yet business innovators will long applaud this simple closure’s ability to circumvent some serious sacred cows. And, isn’t that what we all dream of: Thinking of that one simple idea which transforms our product or creates a brand new one?

Whether developing a break-through marketing strategy or a genius new product, the secret is rethinking pre-conceived notions, questioning the unquestionable and breaking free from ennui.  A vacation – or a nap – may do the trick.  Inspiration for new ideas can come from surprising sources:

Attack those sacred cows. In the case of wine production, there are only so many areas you can tweak to enhance the wine drinker’s experience. Yet, corked wine, spoilage due to a bad cork, was long tolerated since many believed the public was not ready to accept an alternative to the traditional top. Finally, practicality won out (not to mention economics). Wine makers reasoned that if screw tops really improved products, wouldn’t consumers accept them? It seems so. Frank J. Prial, “Wine Talk” columnist of The New York Times, predicts that within a decade, 75 percent or more of wines (out of the 98 percent that is drunk within six months after its purchase) will be sold with metal caps.

Feel free to borrow. Through its more than 200 years in business, DuPont saw the value of sharing technology and solutions across its varied companies. Bringing brilliant minds together, for instance, the company would ask how a coating technology developed for its white pigment business was relevant for a food product. Today, DuPont Food Industry Solutions is successfully bringing this cross-industry technology to the food industry, resulting in both process and product innovation. Inventions as diverse as the light bulb and Lifesavers® came from borrowing learning and technology. It’s a good thing.

Take a trip. A revolutionary car rental concept, Zipcar, was inspired by a vacation in Berlin. There, cars were parked around the city for members to rent by the hour instead of owning their own vehicles. To Americanize the concept, the founders capitalized on the capacity of the Internet and wireless data transmission to make car reservation and access as hassle-free and seamless as using an ATM. For urbanites longing for a country drive or business travelers tired of leaving their fates in the hands of public transportation or expensive alternatives, the idea resonated. Today, thousands of members drive hundreds of the self-service, on-demand Zipcar vehicles conveniently parked throughout major metropolitan areas such as Boston, New York and Washington, D.C.

Defy tradition.  As star salaries and production costs escalated, it was obvious traditional television needed a remake.  Mark Burnett found the answer:  Reality TV.  The originator of shows like “Survivor” and “The Apprentice,” Burnett defied the age-old formulas of sitcoms and dramas, proving that entertainment could be both popular and cheap (well, comparatively) by putting ordinary people in not quite so ordinary circumstances and doing some fine editing.

To sleep, perchance to dream.  Here’s a great excuse for a nap.  Automotive legend Carroll Shelby struck on the name of his now-famous sports car while slumbering:  Cobra.  Mohandas Gandhi dreamed of bringing warring religious factions together peacefully and did it.  Experts don’t agree on the reasons behind this creative outlet, but “sleeping on it,” may indeed be just the way to solve that pressing challenge.

As Ronald S. Burt, a sociologist at the University of Chicago recently said in a New York Times interview, “The usual image of creativity is that it’s some sort of genetic gift, some heroic act. But creativity is an import-export game. It’s not a creation game.”

So, take a quiet moment and indulge in some creative brainstorming with your team or just yourself. And, if you’re really stuck, try unscrewing that cap on the wine bottle (for research purposes only!).  

Kyle Potvin is principal at Splash Communications, LLC, a consultancy of communications specialists with experience serving some of the world’s most visible brands.  She can be reached at or visit  Some of Kyle’s favorite innovations seen during a recent trip to France were a fully automated parking garage silo stretching fourteen levels underground and a hand-held credit card reader used tableside by wait staff at practically every café and restaurant around.

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