April 20, 2023


When's the last time you felt nostalgic?

Have you ever used nostalgia to inspire innovation?

Earlier this week, I visited an art store, called DeSerres. I hadn't been back to one in almost 20 years. In those days, it was called Loomis & Toles.

As soon I walked in the doors, a familiar smell entered my nose and I was immediately brought back to my design school days. It stopped me literally in my tracks and flashes of my time as a student designer flooded my memory. It was surprising and intense all at the same time.

I was reminded of all the times I went to Loomis & Toles to purchase art supplies: foam core, specialty papers, rubber cement, tracing paper, and the like. It brought me back to the days when I'd have to present my work to the class and submit it to the professor for grading.

A flood of memories from the past crashed into my present. I was amazed that one simple smell could do much. Years ago, I attended a workshop at SXSW on the science of smell. I learnt that smell is a powerful way to trigger memory and nostalgia. They were right.

Nostalgia is a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.

Nostalgia can led us to both fond and sad memories. Regardless of what kind of memory, it's powerful.

I also experienced nostalgia watching episode nine of Star Trek: Picard (season three) last week. Watching La Forge pilot the shuttlecraft into the space museum and seeing the letters NCC-1701-D on the hull of the U.S.S. Enterprise was magical. Then, seeing the old crew of the Enterprise walk across the bridge the first time in almost 30 years (our years, not theirs) and hearing Picard say his famous words, "engage" flooded my mind with sweet memories from my childhood.

Both of these experiences put me into the 1990s and 2000s. I was inspired by those two eras and integrated it into a workshop I'm currently designing. That's how nostalgia led to inspire innovation for me.

Nostalgia is powerful. So, how can you leverage it for your advantage in innovation? 

Here's five ways:

  1. Go down memory lane by taking a look through your photo album. When's the last time you revisited old memories? 
  2. Use smell. Is there a certain kind of perfume, food, or clothes that brings up memories from the past for you? Give it a sniff and see what comes up.
  3. Watch a rerun of tv series or movie. 
  4. Listen to music from a by-gone era.
  5. Put on clothes from a prior time in your life.

Now that you're feeling nostalgic, put it to work:

  • How could you use what you're seeing and feeling help you solve a current problem? What inspiration can you draw?
  • Consider the technology, environment, culture, prompts, words, colours, clothes, analogies, metaphors, music from the era. Could any of these elements help you think differently? 
  • Does this feeling lead you to want to explore something else from your past? Another memory perhaps? Another experience? Explore the rabbit trail, see where it leads you and see how that might inspire you.

What are your thoughts? Have you used nostalgia to inspire innovation? Comment below.

About the Author

Leo is a people and heart-first entrepreneur who believes everyone can be an innovator. An innovator himself, with 55 US patents and over 20 years of experience, Leo has come alongside organizations like Chick-fil-A and guided them to unleash the innovative potential of their employees by transforming them into confident innovators.

Leo’s friendly, joyful and enthusiastic demeanour makes the journey to innovation exciting and attainable. Leo’s also a LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® trainer & facilitator who believes unlocking innovation takes new approaches.

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