The next book in my 3-part series is Borrowing Brilliance.

Is it OK to take someone else’s idea and use it to solve your own problem? David Kord Murray says it’s not only OK, he says it’s critical to any achievement. The main point of his book is that it is quite natural to borrow inspiration from others. As a matter of fact, if you look closely, you can see that borrowing happens all the time.

If you think Murray is nothing but someone who’s just skilled at copy-and-paste type jobs, think again. He’s quite accomplished in his own right. He:

  • Built a company that became worth $50M
  • Worked on some early engineering specifications for the International Space Station
  • Spearheaded Intuit’s first TV and Internet marketing campaigns
  • Launched an internet startup that H&R Block bought.

One great innovator Murray cites is Isaac Newton, who said, “if I have seen farther than others, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.” Another scientist he draws from is Einstein, who said, “the secret to good creativity is hiding your sources.” This kind of borrowing is so common in science, people like James Burke have made a career of tracing the Connections. George Lucas, James Cameron and Quentin Tarantino are the best examples of directors whose movies borrow from other people’s movies.

Solution Depends on How the Problem is Framed

He stresses how the way we solve a problem has a lot to do with how we frame the problem. he gave the example of automotive engineers tasked with developing a solution to the problem of lost keys. The engineer who frames the problem narrowly will think of ways to put a fob on a key ring that chirps when needed, using solutions that weigh down the keys or make them obtrusive so they’re not lost. All of these, of course, are solutions that presume that a physical key needs to go in a physical door lock on the car. The engineer who frames the problem as securing a vehicle while allowing its owner to get in, will ask why keys are needed at all. This engineer is able to come up with a keyless entry locks that rely only on the owner remembering a code. This is truly an innovative solution, yet it’s easy to come up with this solution once you frame the problem properly.

The central thrust of the book is his six step process for how you can come up with creative solutions, by borrowing from the creativity of others. Here is a quick summary of his six steps for borrowing brilliance:

1 Defining – How you define a problem will determine how you solve it.

2 Borrowing – Look close, then far away from your field to see how others solve similar problems

3 Combining – Connect borrowed ideas in different ways to see how they can fit your situation.

4 Incubating – Give your ‘gut’ time to think about creative ways to use the solution.

5 Judging – Turn a spotlight on the idea, looking positively at it as well as negative criticism.

6 Redo – Go through this process over again to germinate or further refine an idea.

An Ironically Original Book

The main distinction this book makes is between borrowing and outright plagiarism. You don’t have to feel guilty for gleaning ideas and perspectives from other places. Murray reinforced my belief that there are many ways that disciplines are connected to each other. I refer you to the novelist Tom Robbins, who’s quoted as saying,”Everything in the universe is connected, of course. It’s a matter of using imagination to discover the links, and language to expand and enliven them.”

Murray’s own up and down in the business world are woven into the book. In between his business successes, he dealt with alcoholism, divorce as well as the ego-bruising experience of pushing a company into bankruptcy. This injects some humanity and realism, as personal crises predicated some of Murray’s best ‘borrowings’ – necessity is the mother of invention.

What did this book do for me? It cemented my belief that ideas cross-pollinate. That has long been my justification for trying to be as well-rounded as possible, since the thinking that I do in one area can my thinking in all other areas of my life.