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6 Cool Innovations You Probably Haven’t Heard of (Plus, How to Come Up With the Next Big Thing)

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How often do you stop to consider the creativity and experimentation that powers your daily life?

If you’re anything like us, probably not very often. New technologies pop up, and pretty soon, you wonder how you ever lived without them. And with apps, programs, and iterations coming out seemingly all the time, it’s easy to forget just how much you rely on new technology.

But, behind the scenes, developers, engineers, and designers collaborate for years or even decades to deliver these enhancements to your life. So, how do they continually think about the next big thing?

We put together a list of innovations you probably haven’t heard of (but should definitely check out!) plus three practices to inspire your own out-of-the-box thinking. With the right mix of risk, passion, and applied inquiry, you might just change the world, too.

Innovations to Look Out For

With the rate of new innovations, it’s hard to track them all. Of course, we know about the technologies that improve our daily lives: smart phones, smart gadgets, streaming services, etc. But, here are technologies that we bet you’ve never heard of:

  • Practical Augmented Reality: an interactive experience where the real world is augmented by a computer generated perception.

  • Chatbots: software that can simulate natural conversation and is meant to simplify the interaction between human and machine.

  • Lower Power Radar: radar with the potential to track drones flying under 3,200 feet (so we're one step closer to drone delivery).

  • Brain-Computer Interfaces: Think: typing with just your mind.

  • Light-Powered Internet: WiFi is usually transmitted through radio waves, but now it can be transmitted through light waves.

So, How Do You Spark the Beginnings of a Great Idea?

Consider All Viewpoints

When taking stock within any organization, turn to the experts to flesh out your vision of what’s working and what can be improved. Whether you’re new to the team or a company, invite colleagues from all levels for occasional one-on-one chats over coffee.

In learning about their daily tasks and their broader insights, you might stumble upon collaborators you never would have considered had you not made time to create those connections.

Follow the Future

As well as learning from your colleagues, push your boundaries through social media and news alerts. Follow developments at cutting-edge research hubs like MIT Media Lab and New Lab. Their groundbreaking approaches can inspire problem-solving in any industry, and at the same time, evoke the thrill of possibility and wonder.

Drawing from a wide range of fields—including tech, design, neurobiology, and emotive computing—the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge, Massachusetts has been driving innovation since it was founded in 1985.

A few hours south of Cambridge, a century-old former shipbuilding machine shop has been transformed into New Lab, a space for New York's high-tech design and manufacturing communities in the historic Brooklyn Navy Yard. With access to advanced tools for designing, prototyping, engineering, and launching businesses, its members are empowered to “quickly concept, build, and test products and ideas.”

While MIT Media Lab and New Lab inventions might not connect directly to your core responsibilities at work, keeping tabs on their experimentation might nudge your own thinking in a similar, anything-is-possible direction.

Solve Your Own Problem

As Reed Hastings once told The New York Times, he founded Netflix in 1997 after racking up a big video-rental late fee for Apollo 13: “It was six weeks late and I owed the video store $40. I had misplaced the cassette. It was all my fault. I didn’t want to tell my wife about it. And I said to myself, ‘I’m going to compromise the integrity of my marriage over a late fee?’ Later, on my way to the gym, I realized they had a much better business model. You could pay $30 or $40 a month and work out as little or as much as you wanted.”

With nearly 140 million Netflix subscribers and billions in revenue two decades later, the rest is media history. By adopting Reed’s confidence in applying one business model to improve another, how might you streamline your own life while helping others? Try drawing a Venn diagram combining spheres of your life—as Reed did instinctively with his video rental, his marriage, and his gym membership—and act on any innovations or solutions that emerge from your circles’ overlapping center.

Among all of these ways to foster innovation in your own life and work, there is a common thread: By cultivating an open-minded approach to living and learning, you can increase your capacity for empathy and build a brighter, more connected, future. The world of infinite possibility awaits.