What If There Were No New Ideas?

Would Innovation End?

Some people are positively bursting with new ideas. They wake up every morning and their creative juices are overflowing, they have more new concepts than they can ever possibly execute. Others are more creatively challenged, perhaps even cynical in their belief that there is truly “nothing new under the sun.”

What if all those idea people woke up one morning empty-headed? Would the world of entrepreneurship still march on? Or would the naysayers win as innovation screeches to a halt?

Every idea is another iteration or evolution of something that came before.

In my days at Eckerd College, I took an art class called Visual Problem Solving from Prof. Jim Crane, an artist, cartoonist, and founding faculty of Eckerd’s visual arts program. I stumbled into this class, and it is one that left a lasting impression on me.

In fact, it’s safe to say that I learned more about innovation from Jim Crane than anyone else in my career.

Here’s why:

Artists, it’s assumed, are a font of ideas. In the romantic vision of these of us who aren’t artists, we see them creating new things every day. Sometimes we feel hopeless in our inability to “be creative” because we don’t have that big idea that will change the world.

Artists don’t iterate, do they?

In actuality, Prof. Crane’s whole class was less about shatter ideas to innovatecreation than iteration. We started with a single little idea and broke it into tiny pieces. Then each piece was carefully examined. The best were expanded and broken up again. We evaluated the results, picked a few that looked good, and moved onto the next step.

Over the course of the semester, our original idea exploded. Then it morphed into something completely and utterly different.

Through a deliberate process of iteration, it became a new and better idea.

That’s what innovation is.

It doesn’t really matter if there are no new ideas because entrepreneurial success is all about iteration and execution. Airbnb did not invent the homestay; they came up with a new take on how to do it. Amazon didn’t create online retail, but they did transform it.

Without fail, the entrepreneurs with the most noteworthy businesses are the ones who take an existing concept, turn it on its side, and make something better. Now you might call this a new idea, but I’ll argue it’s just a different perspective, a fresh take.

Creative problem solving is a matter of seeing things differently. Being a successful, innovative entrepreneur requires the ability to view old ideas in new ways.

It also requires skillful execution and communication.

After all, how many great ideas have died on the vine because nobody cared to harvest them? You’ve likely had plenty of great ideas yourself that you just didn’t feel the energy or enthusiasm to pursue. Did you later see them executed by someone else?

I’ve had a few myself that later turned into multimillion-dollar concepts… for someone else. (That’s another story.) I don’t spend my time kicking myself for what might have been, I’m sure there are new concepts to follow.

So don’t fear running out of ideas. Don’t worry that you wake up empty one morning, and it will all be over.

Find a problem that intrigues you, spin it around, and shatter it. In the pieces, you will find the seeds of a future endeavor or new product.

When you do, focus on execution. How can you, and only you, put those pieces together in a unique way?

That’s when you create something that nobody else has done before.

Photo credit: Nick Cowie.

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