Once upon a time...

Picture of John Purdie-Smith

Growing up as John Purdie-Smith with a double-barrelled surname conferred two early advantages: for reasons of dimension, my parents mercifully dispensed with the burden of a middle name and, for those possessing aristocratic curiosity, I had a ready answer to the question "What was my name connected with?" (Answer: a hyphen.)

Having gained undergraduate degrees in accounting and marketing and then honours and post-graduate degrees in marketing, I ran out of excuses for prolonging my university lifestyle and grudgingly took a job in sales. As my education in the ways and means of business progressed, I was surprised to discover that it was possible to enjoy working for a living as well, especially if I sold something. I also observed others successfully 'closing the sale' (I was even picking up the jargon), and saw how occasionally a good idea could boost business success enormously. On some occasions, I was able to profitably adapt a 'great idea' in a situation I faced. These ideas were somehow magical, because something unusually favourable could be achieved, out of all proportion to the effort invested.

...and along came Sebir...

Eventually I came to refer to these innovative ideas as Sebirs, the term 'Sebir' being a loose acronym for 'Small effort: big return'. With my evolving interest, I had gradually started recording, collecting and storing such ideas – that is, 'Sebirs' – where a small amount of effort had somehow generated a much larger beneficial result.

"Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen." John Steinbeck 1902-1968, Author

Although I wasn't then conscious of a potential underlying methodology, I was developing an intuition about how such ideas worked and over time began to draw from aspects of that intuition to achieve some unexpectedly good results in some challenging projects.

These included:

  • Repairing more than 20000 properties in record time after the April 1999 Sydney hailstorm – Australia's most expensive natural disaster;
  • Cutting through the widely-acknowledged logistical difficulties to successfully deliver most of the tickets for the 2000 Sydney Olympics to people's homes;
  • Transforming the customer service of a major home builder to the extent that it won the Australian Housing Industry Innovation Award in 2009.

Basically I was increasingly drawing upon my library of Sebirs, finding a relevant one and adapting it to resolve a particular challenge I was facing. But I soon realised that I wasn't really doing anything completely new here because many well-known innovations in history had come about through 'mental association', or 'associational thinking' when someone was inspired – usually entirely by accident – to put together two previously unrelated thoughts to create something entirely new. I was 'associating' from the previous insights of others but, because I had a repository of ideas to draw upon, I was able to reduce the accidental element. Ultimately, as I came to understand more about having ideas 'by association', I developed a method of classifying those I had accumulated so that it was easier to find a relevant idea that I could associate from.

This tool, whereby accumulated Sebirs can be located according to their relevance and adapted to create completely new Sebirs, is now available on this website via the Sebir Demonstrator and the Sebir Selector.

...and the Sebir story continues...

Although I had many Sebirs that could be easily located by relevance and associated to create a new Sebir, it still wasn't certain that a practical innovative idea would be forthcoming. I wanted to breed specific ideas for specific needs. Could you invent them? How did you create useful Sebirs every time you wanted one?

"Yes, the solution seems to work, it appears to be correct; but how is it possible to invent such a solution?" George Polya 1887-1985, Hungarian Mathematician

Discouragingly, I soon found that the discovery of a reliable way to create innovative ideas was as elusive as the innovative ideas themselves. Looking up definitions of 'innovation' wasn't particularly helpful as these were extremely wide-ranging. In the course of my business life, I encountered all the usual suspects: brainstorming, lateral thinking, white hats, red hats, polka dot hats, mindmapping, artefact cards etc., etc. Yes, I could stimulate my brain to have random, unshackled thoughts but that was the problem...those thoughts were so unfocussed. They could be about anything. The practical value of the outcome was totally random and unpredictable. And even when good ideas were generated, they were 'good' for something somewhere but not usually for the pressing issue at hand.

Definitions of 'innovation' covered a very wide area ranging from "the invention of the telephone" through to "a round of applause for the innkeeper"

I then began dissecting the Sebirs I had accumulated over many years. Once I understood their anatomical structure, I tried to develop rules – called 'algorithms' these days – that would put them back together again. I loved the research aspect, the trawling through mind-numbing detail (doesn't everyone?). It took a long time, but eventually I had a set of algorithms that worked. Next came the really challenging step: moving from re-constructing the anatomy of an existing innovative idea (Sebir) to constructing the anatomy of one that didn't yet exist.

This work is now virtually complete. I have a method to create Sebirs that works for me and is also capable of being converted into an interactive, online learning tool that can be used by anyone. The tool will be available next year.

About Innovator Pty Limited

For all the usual commercial reasons, eventually I needed to incorporate and Innovator Pty Limited was established as the vehicle by which the methodology under-pinning Sebir could be developed reasonably efficiently and hopefully commercialised. Innovator Pty Limited is incorporated in Australia.

Site Credits

This website was developed by iP Edge.