I’m not sure I have ever had an original idea. Come to think of it, I’m not sure many have people actually have. The good ones certainly are rare. All ideas originate somewhere, how many truly unique ideas are there?
We are always building on what has come before us. I believe that almost all ideas are a mix of;
- A new interpretation of an old idea
- Two ideas combined
- An old idea applied to a new problem
- An existing idea applied to a new area
Sitting below an apple tree, Newton ponders the world, suddenly one of the fruits falls upon his head and inspiration hits, gravity is discovered. He quickly rushes to his office and writes his equations down. Really? Ideas come from collaboration, teamwork, building upon the past, they start small and imperfect, they are improved through iteration.
Darwin – now that idea was pretty special. In fact, the reason evolution was such an amazing discovery is the same reason it is hard to see how ideas are formed. We see the end product and human nature is to create a neat narrative to explain it, the lone genius. We want to believe in spontaneous creation and ignore the slow iterations, prompts and hints the world around provided along the way.
Back to Newton – some of his works
- Tried to discover the philosophers stone.
- The theory of calculus
- Spent a large amount of time studying his occult beliefs, causing a mental breakdown.
- The theory of gravity
- Believed he was sent by god to interpret prophesies from the bible and wrote volumes on the subject.
We only get to see the everyone’s highlights reel, their successes. It hides a fact – people who have great ideas have lots of ideas and lots of bad ones.
So have lots of ideas – they don’t have to be bolts of inspiration – think of small improvements, apply old ideas to new things, combine technologies – think creatively.
The good ones seem crazy at first, the bad ones are crazy. So how do you know if your ideas seem nuts or are nuts. Which ones are the good ones? Firstly – give them all a chance! Try them on for size. Keep them close at first if that helps. What would it mean if they were true? Imagine it, picture that world.
Think of what it would take to prove them, to take them through to fruition, are they interesting and exciting? Exciting enough to push through the negativity and doubt that is coming from yourself and others?
Does the idea align with the way you see the world? Care about the truth – Does it fit with what you know is true? Learn about the world and your ideas will get better – you will connect more dots.
So your idea gets you excited, you’ve given it a chance, you’ve sense checked it with your theory of how the world works and hopefully themes of the idea have worked in another field… so what now?
Alfred Wallace & Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. Wallace discovered natural selection independently of Darwin at approximately the same time. Leibniz discovered calculus independently of Newton at the same time. This is not an isolated occurrence. E=mc2 – discovered by 3 others as well as Einstein, though Einstein’s equation was the accepted version. It seems absurd if ideas come from single geniuses, but more sense if iteration is involved.
So get going! Chances are someone else is connecting the same dots as you!
- Don’t expect a magic bullet, you don’t have to think of something completely new!
- Have lots of ideas
- Give each of them a chance in your head, even for just a second
- Pick the ones that excite you – you’ll need the energy
- Sense check them with your understanding of the world, should I take this further? Does it fit?
- Get a move on! History says you are racing against someone else!
Where did I get these ideas? This blog is a combination of things I have read, heard, pondered, and in the end weaved together. At the end of each post I will do my best to provide some rough references, please let me know if I have made mistakes, as I most likely will;
- Bill Bryson – A Brief History of nearly everything
- Walter Isaacson – The Innovators
- NPR Podcast – How I Built This Guy Raz
- Kevin Kelly – The Inevitable
- ABC Podcast – Late Night Live with Phillip Adams
- Walter Isaacson – Benjamin Franklin
- Various other biographies
- Peter Thiel- Zero to One
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