Sometimes the best answers are so obvious you overlook them.

Are you struggling to find a creative solution to a stubborn problem? Often, the answer you seek resides outside your own field. These five ideas might help.

1 Let curiosity guide you

Born in 1907 in a small Swiss town, George de Mestral was an inventor from an early age. On a 1941 hunting trip, he noticed that his trousers were covered in hard-to-remove burs from a burdock plant. Fascinated, he studied them under a microscope, observing how hundreds of tiny hooks stuck to each other. After years of trial and error, his eventual invention was patented – the company he founded to take it to market was called ‘Velcro’.

2 If you find something annoying, perhaps others will too 

Sir James Dyson has built a career around using his own frustrations to inspire inventions that solve prosaic household problems. A quest that took him years was inspired by vacuum cleaners which used bags to capture dirt. The bags not only had to be regularly changed but, as they filled, they hindered the effectiveness of the vacuum. His ‘aha!’ moment came when he visited a sawmill. The mill used what are called cyclonic separators – essentially, controlled tornadoes – to suck up dust. Sir James was inspired – and spent years figuring out how to shrink a huge industrial separator into a household-sized device. Voilà, the bagless vacuum was born.

3 If they can do it, why can’t we? 

Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children in London, England, found that the transition between surgery and intensive care units was a high-risk element in patient care. There are several threats – porting a fragile small person is inherently risky; critical health data can be mis-transferred; technology can be poorly reconfigured. After a long day, two tired surgeons, Dr Allan Goldman and Professor Martin Elliott, sat down for a rest and, coincidentally, Formula 1 appeared on the television. They watched the pit crews seamlessly, safely manage each pit-stop in an average 2.5 seconds. The medics asked: “If they can do it, why can’t we?” They launched a groundbreaking effort to bring the learning from Formula 1 into their children’s hospital.

4 Hang on, that’s just a different version of the same problem! 

Born in 1907 in the UK, Owen Finlay Maclaren became an aeronautical engineer and test pilot. Maclaren invented the undercarriage for the famous World War II fighter plane – the Supermarine Spitfire. His design afforded the aircraft great maneuverability: it allowed the plane to be steered and swiveled easily on the ground, yet it could still fold away neatly when the plane was in the air. A visit from Maclaren’s baby granddaughter was pivotal. Baby buggies at the time were heavy contraptions; their wheels didn’t turn, and they commanded all the maneuverability of a garden dumpster. That’s when Maclaren had his ‘aha!’ moment – he could use the principles from the Spitfire’s undercarriage to make a foldable, portable stroller.  The modern baby buggy came to be.

5 It actually is rocket science

Perhaps the mother of all sources of cross-industry inventiveness came from the space program, which pioneered technological innovations that were devised to get people into space, but which ended up solving prosaic problems here on Earth. Memory foam mattresses had their origins in materials designed to provide crash protection for astronauts. Solar panels, devised to capture energy in space, are now a key element of the clean-energy revolution. Even smoke detectors have their intellectual history in detectors used on Skylab.

The truth is out there

Key to problem-solving is opening your eyes and broadening your mind: many problems have been solved before. Answers need not be devised – they can be discovered. Sometimes, they stare us in the face.