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:
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.
** 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.