Looking for your next breakthrough idea? Try this unique method to find inspiration.

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As CEO of a top-notch university in an extremely competitive industry where colleges and universities compete “for students, faculty, dollars, external funding, donations, visibility and prestige, and in some cases survival,” I devote my whole being to the continued evolution of SCAD. What programs and resources can we invent to remain a preeminent academic destination, serving our students and launching If you aspire to lead an innovative business in a crowded marketthen you too will expend the lion’s share of your mental energies to coax your next breakthrough .

For me, the search for inventive inspiration begins with the legendary rule of three. Trinities are ubiquitous in history and culture, from the Golden Triangle, which helps create visually more pleasing compositions, to social media feeds arranged in thirds. In the most attractive spaces have three colors and textures, just like The Avengers The MCU’s ‘Infinity’ saga has three phases, and Tolkien’s the Lord of the Rings epic includes six published three-volume books. There is magic in threes.

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What is triangulation?

I have developed my own three-way approach to ideation, which I call “triangulation” (a term borrowed from surveying and astronomy), where I tap into two seemingly unrelated ideas to chart the way to a third. In a bit of mathematical alchemy, you can do 1 + 1 = 3, where two good ideas, when combined, add up to more than the constituent parts.

You can see triangulation in action in the example of Swiss engineer George de Mestral. One day in 1941, while walking in the Jura mountains, de Mestral noticed burdock smudges clinging to his pants. The average hiker might have picked up the unwanted hitchhikers and walked, but the curious engineer looked closer and observed a curious thing: the hooks of the burrs were sticking to the tiny loops of the fabric of his pants. An idea began to take shape. After much trial and error, de Mestral replicated nature’s fantastic tether, and here! — Velcro® was born.

The zipper without a zipper might never have existed if de Mestral had not taken a moment from his daily work for a walk in the mountains of and if not for the curiosity and tenacity that helped him see an opportunity and run (or walk!) with it. He looked deeper into the world with his sixth sense (or third eye, if you prefer) and where others would have observed a mere quirk of nature, he saw an opportunity, an untapped marvel of design, and he developed his million dollar idea through a process that led to many of the biggest inventions and business ideas. The inspiration that lay inside the smudge, like many outstanding ideas, was there for the taking, softly calling “Choose me! Choose me!” to anyone who listens carefully enough to hear.

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How I successfully applied triangulation

At SCAD, rather than walking through the Swiss highlands, I walk through the factory of our university, participating in classes, visiting studios, observing with my own eyes how our expert teachers teach and what our students have created. . For example, during a series of classroom visits last year, I observed that many of our students were creating, on their own initiative, innovative campaigns, colors and designs for . The sneakers were on their feet and in their minds. “We are sneakerheads!” one student told me, pointing out that everyone (even the teachers) had the hippest kicks.

Soon after, I noticed something else in my reading. (Besides, reading is essential to triangulation and ideation! Leaders must read by far: biographies, stories, novels, magazines, newspapers, etc. Every night I read things like New York Times, FinancialTimes, vogue, Architectural Summary, The Economist and Bloomberg. So there I was, reading The Wall Street Journaland right there on the cover of the Style section was the headline: “Why are Asics and Salomon sneakers is the hottest .” This article sent me down a rabbit hole of online research, where I learned that athletics The market is valued at $80 billion and growing rapidly. A LinkedIn search showed me that many of our alumni from fashion, industrial design and other majors work at Nike, Yeezy, Adidas, Reebok and more. Several alumni already have their own brands, such as Q4 Sports and Michael Gray Footwear.

Those two observations – a) SCAD students are sneakerheads, and b) sneakers are big business, and many of our graduates are already in the industry – led me to a new idea there for anyone listens carefully enough to its call for attention: the world’s premier academic program for sneaker design. And now was the time to do it.

The best ideas hit the mark. Call it what you want: the atmosphere of the time, the spirit in the air, the spirit of the times. The Greek philosopher Aristotle called it kairos, which means presenting the best ideas at the right time. Inspired, I gathered our academic leaders to launch a breakthrough minor in sneaker design, the first in the world. And there it is: 1 + 1 = 3! (As a bonus, the sneaker design minor also serves as an apt example of my “layered learning” approach to education, combining elements of fashion, engineering, and marketing into a single academic program.

The development of SNKR at SCAD was an eye-opening moment, but not a fluke. It was the result of careful observation and creative application at the right time for a ready market. When CBS Evening News heard about the new program and its relevance for students and graduates who want cool and creative careers, they featured SCAD and our sneaker design program in their American innovation series.

I applied triangulation to all aspects of SCAD. I’ve known for a long time that collectors and interior designers attend our Open Studio events to buy SCAD art. Combine this fact with another: a few years ago, Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank approached SCAD to curate over 1,000 artworks for the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium (now the the largest permanent art exhibition in any major stadium or arena in the world). I combined these two ideas – a) collectors and designers want SCAD art, and b) the world recognizes our reputation for curating spectacular art exhibitions and installations – to create SCAD Art Sales, a full-service art consultancy that has installed the work of our students, alumni and faculty in hotels, homes and corporate offices around the world.

Likewise, I used triangulation to design what is perhaps the university’s most famous initiative. By the early 2000s, our industrial design department had begun partnering with companies such as Kicker Car Audio, JCB, Gulfstream, Rubbermaid and others to develop new products (i.e., serious real-world research assignments that brought products to market and often resulted in these companies hiring students). This successful program, when combined with the career guidance of the SCAD missioninspired me to transform the Industrial Design Department’s in-house research lab into SCADpro, a university-wide global innovation studio with locations in the US and Europe.

Clients now include Delta, Deloitte, Google, Disney, Club Car, Volvo, BMW and hundreds more who partner with students and professors in film, fashion, user experience, design of services, architecture, immersive reality and others. Last school year, SCADpro generated over $3 million in revenue and helped launch the student careers who were offered jobs in these companies before they even graduated.

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How to apply triangulation

Triangulation is accessible to any leader with imagination, requiring three simple ingredients:

  • Research and observation (read voraciously and never stop visiting the factory)

  • Creative application (combine unexpected ideas with seemingly disparate observations)

  • Excellent perception and timing (choosing the right ideas at the right time)

Leaders are able to triangulate because they know their business so well that they can spot serendipitous opportunities that others simply don’t see – and they are always thinking, always active and possessing a watchful thirst for design and invent.

Who will spot the next serendipitous opportunity to invent the next Slinky, Post-It Note, Play-Doh or Popsicle? Like smudges on the cuff as you wander through the high country of your career, winning ideas are everywhere, just waiting to be discovered.