Connecting Unrelated Ideas

Connecting Unrelated Ideas


Miller Brewing had been a Milwaukee and American beer mainstay throughout the 20th century until it was purchased by South African Breweries (SAB) for $3.6 Billion in 2003. Miller had an established product, brand, supply chain but was also experiencing a declining trend in profits. The move was a gamble for SAB but it created the potential to obtain an enormous global market share and become the leader in the beer world (Norman Adami, 2019). Norman Adami, a 48-year old South African Executive known for cutting costs, became the CEO of Miller North America and was charged with turning the company around while integrating the old organization with the new. Adami’s style was to continuously look for inefficiencies where he would even assist suppliers in helping them reduce supply chain costs. He was able to be so effective at understanding business and finding inefficiencies because of his personality of being extremely approachable and having an ability to put people at ease so that they could speak freely (Simon, 2003). His first order of business was converting the main floor of the headquarters into a bar for all of the employees. This was his method of breaking down work silos, to integrate workers with salarymen, and to get a few beers in people to help them make connections between two unrelated ideas(Miller Brewing: It’s Norman Time, 2006).

Following the theory of biosociation from Arthur Koestler’s which is the process of combining two unrelated ideas to create something new (Koestler, 1967). The creation of the mule by combining a male donkey and female horse follows this model of biosociation. The end result was the mule that had harder hooves to make it better suited to cover rocky terrain, they are easier to train, and they can cover fifty miles in a day with only needing four hours of sleep per night. While they are not a horse and not a donkey, they are something unique. Scaffolding ideas is wonderfull at creating incremental improvements to an already existing idea, but the heart of innovation is the disruptive nature of creating something that no one has thought of and thus gives a competitive advantage.

The connecting of unrelated ideas stems from external stimuli. By having two or more individuals with different thought processes they can merge their approaches. By enabling cross-functional or multiple domain exposures this breaks the normal cycle and gives freedom to the mind to process new possibilities. This also breaks down the silos of normalized and linear thinking that drain an organization of new insights.


A natural tendency of an individual is to develop a specialty. Like its name, a specialty makes a person special and needed. This gives purpose and confidence to a person. In many cases, this can also go too far where the individual gets defensive of their specialty and fights to protect their status as the specialist. This can be a close association with some Union organizations where roles are specifically defined those role boundaries are not crossed without repercussion. One of that major failings of these types of cultures is that it does not tap the insights of the entire workforce, unrelated ideas struggle to be connected, and future opportunities are missed.

The most successful innovation companies are ones where everybody is involved in research and development. These organizations don’t segregate between creative and noncreative positions but have the expectation that everyone’s’ insights are valuable. This drives a creative culture and builds capacity for making connections across departmental lines. Proctor & Gamble routinely apply this methodology and have been leaders in a field of conglomerates as exampled by their pairing paper products, bleach, and glue departments together to create the consumer Crest Whitestrips (Lafley, 2008).

In 1999 Steve Jobs, Pixar’s CEO, brought in Bohlin Cywinski Jackson to design a new campus that would promote encounters and unplanned collaborations. The original campus was very isolated having computer scientists, animators, and the business units all in different buildings where they rarely interacted with each other (Pixar Headquarters and the Legacy of Steve Jobs, 2019). Job’s belief was that if a building doesn’t encourage collaboration, you’ll lose a lot of innovation and the magic that is sparked by serendipity (Isaacson, 2011). This inspired his goal to create interaction points in the office that people would gravitate to and lead to connect others and inspire new ideas. This started the age of common rooms, games in the office, and even central bathrooms to force people out of their safe office spots. Job’s later paired with his long-time collaborator Jony Ivy to design the new Apple Park in the same manner that Pixar was designed (Passariello, 2017).

This approach to blending departments and office design moves an organization from parochial thought to a growth mindset. The brain naturally creates work silos, “my work is what I get paid for.” These routines build cognitive blocks and over an extended amount of time, it makes it harder to get individuals and teams to see outside of their mental models. The importance is putting an emphasis on curiosity, trying to understand the entire organizational systems to create a breadth of understanding which will keep minds out of stagnation.

Practical Applications

  • Practice the activity of using your mind to connect two unrelated ideas, this also works in a group setting to prime the team to think uniquely
  • Put an emphasis on breaking workplace silos by reorganizing reporting lines and seating locations. Integrate business units with the expectation they use their experience to build something new
  • Schedule and run a designed workshop with the intent to cross-pollinate the teams and generate unrelated ideas

I.M. Pei

I.M. Pei was born in Canton, China in 1917 to a  moderately wealthy family which enabled him to come to the United States in 1935 to study at the University of Pennsylvania. Quickly he transferred to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) following disagreements with the Penn faculty on the use of traditional architecture (The Pritzker Architecture Prize, 2019). Due to World War II, he stayed in America and attended the Harvard Graduate School of Design which later was a blessing in disguise (Stott, 2019).

After Harvard, Pei caught an early break for an architect and was hired by William Zeckendorf a major real estate developer. While classmates of his were lucky to design a few houses, Pei started early in his career designing high rise buildings building throughout New York and quickly built a strong reputation in his field. These early successes led to his winning bid to design the Kennedy Center in Boston, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Clevland, and his final piece being the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha. Pei’s crowning achievement was his commission to update the Louvre in 1989 (Cronin, 2019).

Pei executed a unique style of modernism where he rejected traditional architecture and he chose to blend style with design prowess. This led to his controversy and coming under fire for the pyramid he designed for the Louvre Museum update. He was cited for defacing the famed museum and creating a blight spot on all of Paris. Later the city came to see the brilliance of Pei’s redesigned courtyard which was influenced by the geometric works of the French architect Le Notre. His attempt to make his addition classically French was later recognized where the building has now viewed an icon of Paris (Goldberger, 2019). Pei may have been the real-life embodiment of “The Fountainheads” Howard Roark, who fought to create anew instead of them relying on the safety of the past and where his goal was to blend two unrelated objects of the building and the location into one.


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