Connecting Unrelated Ideas

Connecting Unrelated Ideas

Another SAB Miller

Norman Adami was the master of connecting unrelated ideas. It started with Miller Brewing which had been a Milwaukee and American beer mainstay throughout the 20th century. However, South African Breweries (SAB) purchased Miller Brewing 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. However, it created the potential to obtain an enormous global market share and become the leader in the beer world.

Finally Norman Time

Norman Adami, a 48-year old South African Executive known for cutting costs. He became the CEO of Miller North America with the goal to turn the company around. Hence, his goal of integrating the old organization with the new was his top priority. Adami’s style was to continuously look for inefficiencies. Likewise, 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.

Above all, he was extremely approachable and having an ability to put people at ease so that they could speak freely. 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. Because to get a few beers in people is to help them make connections between two unrelated ideas.

Because of an Act of Creation

Following the theory of biosociation from Arthur Koestler’s which is the process of combining two unrelated ideas to create something new. 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 wonderful 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.

Connecting Unrelated Ideas

The connecting of unrelated ideas stems from external stimuli is having two or more individuals with different thought processes that 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.

For That Reason Specialization

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. Hence, role boundaries are not crossed without repercussions. The major failings of these cultures are that it does not tap the insights of the entire workforce, unrelated ideas struggle to be connected, and future opportunities are missed.

Involving the Whole Company in R&D

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.

Pixar’s New Campus In Contrast

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. 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. 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.

Brain Silos Above All

This approach to blending departments and office design moves an organization from parochial thought to a growth mindset. The brain creates work silos, “my work is what I get paid for.” A routine creates a cognitive wall over extended amounts of time. This increases the difficulty in getting 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

Also, 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. Due to World War II, he stayed in America and attended the Harvard Graduate School of Design which later was a blessing in disguise.

Similarly, the Louvre

After Harvard, Pei caught an early break for an architect because he 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. Because of these early successes that led to his winning bid to design the Kennedy Center in Boston, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, and his final piece being the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha. Above all, Pei’s crowning achievement was his commission to update the Louvre in 1989.

Certainly, the Fountainhead

Pei executed a unique style of modernism where he rejected traditional architecture and he chose to blend style with design prowess. However, 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 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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