When I was in school I was listening to a talk about a topic (or so I thought) unrelated to my research. The speaker mentioned in passing that they were adding hydrogen to the helium microwave plasma. That caught my attention as I realized that it may be suitable for the problems I was having getting my project on RF ICPs to work. With a little bit of literature searching I was able to find much work from the light bulb industry that addressed the problem that I was having. Imagine my surprise that my "research" problem had already been encountered (in a somewhat different form) in another industry.
You should always be aware of potential solutions to problems you might encounter in unexpected places. In "Made to Stick" the authors talk about the power of spotting a good story that supports what you want to communicate. Unless you are actively looking for such an story, you may miss it when you come across it. Likewise problem solutions may elude you unless you have the problem(s) in mind and you are actively looking for solutions.
Don't neglect this key ingredient of problem solving.