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Drawing inspiration from the unexpected

A fresh perspective on an existing problem can increase the chances for disruption. The taxi industry was not revamped by a seasoned transportation veteran - but two technologists who wanted to order a car using an app on their phone.

This isn't an end-all-be-all rule. A musician may have a small chance of disrupting the neuroscience industry. But transposing a mindset unique to your field of expertise to another field, may have a potent effect. The 30 for 30 ESPN documentary, "Of Miracles And Men" (available on Netflix) covers the history of hockey in the USSR. The man responsible for putting together the national hockey program and team was Anatoli Tarasov.

As the documentary shows Tarasov was very unorthodox in his approach to coaching the team. For example he studied the movements and training of ballet dancers, and saw a connection to hockey. He had his players do similar exercises as he felt they would translate nicely on the ice. No other hockey team in the world was using exercises inspired by ballet dancers. And yet the USSR hockey became the most dominant team in international hockey. Tarasov's brilliance was credited to his ability to draw inspiration from disparate fields and applying them to hockey.

Tim Ferriss in one his recent podcasts had a great line that I'll paraphrase: an elite bobsledder has more in common with an elite chess player than with a top-30, top-40 bobsledder. The idea is that to reach the top in any field requires something extra. In sports that extra may be mental-toughness, the ability to handle pressure situations, or creativity. All elite athletes are really good at the sport part, but the intangibles are what set apart the good from the best. And thus the elite bobsledder can relate to the elite chess player because of the intangibles.

My music teacher shared with me a lesson that has stuck with me. He advised that I could get musical inspiration from anywhere. Hear that construction noise outside? Try and deduce the rhythmical pattern of the jackhammer and write a melody around it. See a painting you like? Assign notes to the colors being used and see if you can derive a chord progression from that. This brings originality to the composition process as I doubt someone is listening to the jackhammer with the intent of transposing it's rhythmic pattern. Drawing inspiration from the unexpected.

I feel it's important to expose ourselves to a wide range of topics. It's why I'm currently reading this biography. I don't have any plans to become a civil engineer, and yet there are many "life" lessons to be learned from John Roebling. Lessons that I can apply to my life in the tech world.

Yes it's great to learn from those who are the elite in your field. And yet if you want to be disruptive and original, you have to look at a problem through a lens no one has looked through yet. To do that you need to pique your curiosity. Ask questions. Experience different things and don't discount anything. You never know when that book on Japanese Ramen cooking styles may have a lesson you apply to your main project.