It All Starts With An Idea

Two fish swam past one another. One turns to the other and says:

“The water’s nice today isn’t it?”

After a few minutes the second fish thought to himself:

“What’s water???”

Ideas are valuable. Ideas are the birthplace of innovation, entrepreneurship and value creation.

The problem in today’s world is that many ideas go unquestioned for so long that we forget that we can even question them. The fact is that opportunity surrounds us all if we only take a closer look and examine things a bit deeper.

In this respect we’re all swimming in opportunity, but just like that fish we may be blind to it.

There’s another problem. New ideas, heterodox ideas, the ones that at first instance seem a bit weird are often dismissed too quickly. They aren’t allowed to grow and mature, because just like anything else, ideas change over time and often get better.

So the key is to not only question what already is, but allow new ideas a chance by not interrogating them too much, but exploring them fully.

Ideas Come First

For some reason there is a notion that “science” generates ideas, that science provides the means to bring about spectacular new innovations.

But, it isn’t and never will be.  Science is a method to prove or disprove a theory.  The theory or idea itself came from a person who had a hunch.

I sometimes tell my patients a story about stomach ulcers.  It used to be thought that ulcers could never be caused by bacteria living in the stomach.  The whole scientific community found it preposterous that an organism would be able to live in the stomach and cause ulcers to form.

An Australian doctor had the complete opposite idea.  He had the idea that a bug* could indeed cause stomach ulcers and that a simple course of antibiotics could prevent people needing more invasive operations and reduce the chances of people developing stomach cancer if promptly treated.

“everyone was against me, but I knew I was right.” – Dr Barry Marshall

He used the scientific method to prove himself right – by infecting himself with the bacteria and treating himself.  He went on to win the Nobel Prize in medicine for his work.

How To Know If You’ve Got A Good Idea

I can’t figure out how to develop ideas.  Phrases such as “solve a problem”, don’t quite seem to do the job.

The reason is that “problems” aren’t clearly defined.  Problems – the type that actually matter and are therefore the most valuable are fuzzy and yet to be defined.  So framing a problem in and of itself is very difficult.

The other thing is that to really solve a problem requires you to have an opinion, a view of how things are or should be.  Like Dr Barry Marshall, you need to develop a point of view and then have the balls to stick by it and see it through to the end.

This is very rare indeed.

It is very rare to meet someone who has thought deeply about an issue and come to a conclusion which is unique and well thought out.  Most people not only allow others to define the discussion or the problem, but they rely on other people to provide the solution and thought process behind the reasoning.

I have noticed that if you do have an idea, the best way to figure out if it is a good one, is to put it to the test.  Implement it in the real world and see what happens.  It won’t be perfect and it will get altered, modified and changed** as time goes on and as it comes into contact with resistance.  But if all the signs point to the idea being robust then you owe it to yourself and the world to see it through.

*Helicobacter pylori

** There is an idea called “Hegelian Aufheben” which says that when some ideas come into contact with an opposing idea it is not destroyed.  Nor does the original idea destroy the opposing idea.  There are situations where the opposing ideas enrich each other and they both get better, stronger and more robust.

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Fear, Tension, Resistance & Your Best Work

“We got taught for 12 or 16 years at school, that our job was to get an “A”, that if we are defective we fail – we were reprocessed, sent back a grade and had to do it again.  This idea that we better be right, that we better be perfect, that we better get it all correct, goes deep within us.

The industrialists wanted that to happen, because it makes us a better factory worker, it makes us better at following specific instructions.

When something comes along that might not work we feel “The Tension”.  “The Tension” of experiencing two things at the same time:

  • This might work.  That’d be great!
  • This might not work. I’m gonna be doomed!

“The Tension” exists when we feel both of those at the same time.  If you’re not feeling both at the same time then you’re probably not doing your best work, you’re probably not having your most honest relationships, you’re probably not inventing the future, you’re simply a victim of the future.

So, “The Tension” isn’t something to avoid, it’s something to seek out, because that’s what it is to be a professional today.  To go to that place where we feel – as Steve Pressfield calls it; “The Resistance”.  “The Resistance” [think about the tension in a rubber band] pulling us away from the place where we might be able to make a difference.

I think it’s possible to learn that when that tension shows up, we should lean toward it, not away from it.  It’s possible to learn that that’s actually our job, that as a professional or mere writing or speaking or typing or engaging or inventing – “The Tension” – that place where we feel it, that is what we’re getting paid to do.

Thats’ when our chance shows up for us to do our best work. ”

– An excerpt from Seth Godin’s podcast “Akimbo”: https://www.akimbo.me/

The Right Size

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Why is it that no one ever says that Cambridge University should “scale” to serve more people or “disrupt” the education system*?  Does anyone really think that Cambridge University should start a “franchise” and open up shop all across England or America?

Why is it then that when people look at their own businesses “growth” and “disruption” seem to be the main goal?

I have noticed that most things have a natural size.  Whether it be the ideal size of a pizza, a smart phone or a business.  It’s not always about getting bigger, about growth, about franchising.  Most of the time it’s about doing what’s right for you and your business.

Ironically, staying the right size is also the best way to maximise and maintain long-term profits.

*Scaling Cambridge University

Why doesn’t Cambridge University scale and open up in different parts of the country?  Modern technology would allow all lectures to be uploaded to YouTube and the curriculum could also be uploaded for everyone to read in a pdf format.

When I was in medical school I had a sneaking suspicion that my University actually wasn’t doing much….  I spent most of my time at University reading textbooks.  Textbooks which anyone could buy off of Amazon.

I then sat an exam which culminated in all the professors wearing funny hats and handing me a piece of paper (some call it a diploma), which allowed me to practice medicine.

Here’s the thing.  Universities often claim that they do a lot for their students.  They claim that only they can impart the knowledge and wisdom needed to get good jobs.  They claim that by going to their University, you will be better off and smarter for it.

I smell BS.

  1. If Universities really do impart special knowledge which magically makes you smarter then surely Cambridge University should scale.  Why would you deprive the wider population the opportunity to get smarter?
  2. Universities say they don’t accept just anyone – you must have the right grades to get in.  But by saying this they are essentially admitting that they can’t make people smarter.

When I was in University, I was surrounded by smart people.  But, that wasn’t because of the University at all.

Let’s face it, the whole University system is an excuse to wear funny hats from time to time.

You Are Not A Red Zebra

red zebra

Isn’t it strange how zebra’s stand out so much?

Shouldn’t they have evolved to be a sort of brown colour?  Like the lion, so that they would blend in with their environment and not get eaten?

Interestingly enough when scientists were studying zebra’s, they found it awfully hard to keep track of which zebra was which, so they came up with a solution:

“Why don’t we paint a red spot on the zebra we want to track?!”

Every time the scientists did this, the zebra in question got eaten.

Why?

Because the Zebra with the red-painted spot stood out from the rest of the herd.  It turns out that the herd provide the camouflage for the individual.

But here’s the thing:

You are not a zebra, you don’t move in herds and you don’t need to worry about getting eaten

Can you think of a single person you admire that didn’t stand for something that set them apart from the crowd?

Whether it be Steve Jobs, Mahatma Gandhi or a soldier who fought for their country.  All these people stood for something and most likely would put their life on the line for what they believe in.

At some point it seems, we have to put our foot down, draw the line in the sand and say:

“This is what I believe is right.  This is what I believe in.  This is who I am and what I stand for.”

I don’t fear laying on my death-bed and feeling sad that I didn’t accomplish X,Y or Z.  I am afraid that I will be on my death-bed and look back at my life and realise that I didn’t stand up for what I truly believe in.  That is a life not lived.

Avoid The Tourist Trap

A great meal in Paris…

One of the best things about spending a week in Paris is getting to experience some really great food.

A simple way of knowing if a place is worth visiting is by simply walking inside and listening carefully to the customers. Are they speaking French? If they are, then you’ll likely have a good meal.

The reason places which cater only to tourists suck is because they usually just want to make a quick buck. They’re not interested in starting a new relationship with a long term customer. They want to maximise profits and spend as little as possible while doing so.

However, this kind of plan won’t work with locals. With locals you have to play an “infinite game”. Developing and nurturing longstanding relationships where you actually care about the people you have the privilege of serving.

The question is, are you treating your customers like tourists? Do you want to take them for a ride?

Or are you playing the infinite game? Are you in this for the long haul because you actually care and want to build longstanding relationships?

Still Or Sparkling?

When you’re asked at a restaurant if you would like “still or sparkling water?”, what do you say?

Often we do things in a certain way without asking why. It starts off innocently enough in school. We get shown how to tie our shoes the tried and tested way, so that we don’t have to keep reinventing the wheel every time we are presented with a new problem.

But it starts to become a problem when we stop realising that it’s ok to not do things the “tried and tested way”. After a while we become completely blind to different ways of doing things. We forget to ask why things are done the way they are and as a result we stop ourselves from breaking the status quo and creating meaningful work.

A little known fact; the waiter asks you if you would like”still or sparkling”, because then you won’t say “tap water”. They trick you into thinking that there are only two options.

Another little known fact; you’re probably not tying your shoe laces properly:

So the question becomes; are you avoiding doing something meaningful because you’ve become blind to the opportunities all around you?

Or worse. Are you blind to the amazing contribution that you can surely bring to your community?

If you are reading this blog, then I know for sure that the world needs you. Don’t let the world blind you into thinking otherwise.