The Origin of Ideas


An Idea is the major tool for the entrepreneur. All multinationals and global brands started with a simple idea, an epiphany, a trend spotted early by the entrepreneur, following a curiosity, building a solution for a market segment or building a solution for a problem they had. Ideas lead to innovation which have sustained our civilization through breakthroughs and technological advancements. 

An idea is the first major milestone in the process of building a successful business

Management Guru Peter F. Drucker identified seven sources of innovation in his book: Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Drucker noted that “Entrepreneurs innovate. Innovation is the instrument of entrepreneurship. It is the act that endows resources with a new capacity to create wealth”

Whatever changes the wealth-producing potential of already existing resources constitutes innovation.

Successful entrepreneurs aim high. They are not content simply to improve on what already exists, or to modify it. They try to create new and different values and new and different satisfactions, to convert a “material” into a “resource,” or to combine existing resources in a new and more productive configuration.

“Systematic innovation therefore consists in the purposeful and organized search for changes, and in the systematic analysis of the opportunities such changes might offer for economic or social innovation”

Systematic Innovation means monitoring seven sources for innovation.

  1. The Unexpected: The unexpected success, the unexpected failure, the unexpected outside event;
  2. The Incongruity: Between reality as it actually is and reality as it is assumed to be or as it ought to be;
  3. Innovation based on process need;
  4. Changes in industry structure or market structure that catch everyone unaware
  5. Demographics (population changes)
  6. Changes in perception, mood and meaning
  7. New knowledge, both scientific and non-scientific.

Where do great ideas come from? That was the question that media theorist and author Steven Johnson sought to answer in his book titled: “Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation. According to Johnson, there are 7 key patterns of Innovations:

  1. The Adjacent Possible

The adjacent possible is a concept popularized by American theoretical biologist Stuart Kauffman. Johnson noted that “The phrase captures both the limits and the creative potential of change and innovation.”  The adjacent possible is a kind of shadow future, hovering on the edges of the present state of things, a map of all the ways in which the present can reinvent itself.

What the adjacent possible tells us is that at any moment the world is capable of extraordinary change, but only certain changes can happen

  1. Liquid Networks

A good idea is a network.  A new idea is a network of cells exploring the adjacent possible of connections that they can make in your mind.

An idea is not a single thing. It is more like a swarm.

A liquid network creates a more promising environment for the system to explore the adjacent possible.  The 100 billion neurons in your brain form another kind of liquid network: densely interconnected, constantly exploring new patterns, but also capable of preserving useful structures for long periods of time.

So part of the secret of hunch cultivation is simple: write everything down

  1. The Slow Hunch

Most hunches that turn into important innovations unfold over much longer time frames. They start with a vague, hard-to-describe sense that there’s an interesting solution to a problem that hasn’t yet been proposed, and they linger in the shadows of the mind, sometimes for decades, assembling new connections and gaining strength. And then one day they are transformed into something more substantial: sometimes jolted out by some newly discovered trove of information, or by another hunch lingering in another mind, or by an internal association that finally completes the thought.

A new idea is something larger than that: it’s a new perspective on a problem, or a recognition of a new opportunity that has gone unexplored to date. Those kinds of breakthroughs usually take time to develop.

  1. Serendipity

Serendipity is built out of happy accidents, to be sure, but what makes them happy is the fact that the discovery you’ve made is meaningful to you. It completes a hunch, or opens up a door in the adjacent possible that you had overlooked.

Serendipity needs unlikely collisions and discoveries, but it also needs something to anchor those discoveries. Otherwise, your ideas are like carbon atoms randomly colliding with other atoms in the primordial soup without ever forming the rings and lattices of organic life.

  1. ERROR

A shockingly large number of transformative ideas in the annals of science can be attributed to contaminated laboratory environments.

Error often creates a path that leads you out of your comfortable assumptions. Being right keeps you in place. Being wrong forces you to explore.

Johnson cites various examples of innovations discovered in error such as:

  • Alexander Fleming famously discovered the medical virtues of penicillin when the mold accidentally infiltrated a culture of Staphylococcus he had left by an open window in his lab.
  • The inventions of radiography, vulcanized rubber, and plastic all depended on generative mistakes that were generative precisely because they connected to slow hunches in the minds of their creators.

The error is needed to set off the truth, much as a dark background is required for exhibiting the brightness of a picture.- William James


First proposed in an influential 1971 essay by Stephen Jay Gould and Elisabeth Vrba: exaptation. An organism develops a trait optimized for a specific use, but then the trait gets hijacked for a completely different function.

A tool that helps you see in one context ends up helping you keep warm in another. That’s the essence of exaptation.

  1. Platforms

The most generative platforms come in stacks, most conspicuously in the layered platform of the Web.  The Web can be imagined as a kind of archaeological site, with layers upon layers of platforms buried beneath every page.

Ideas are intrinsically copyable in the way that food and fuel are not. You have to build dams to keep ideas from flowing.

Have you got a business idea that you want to bring to the world? It can be daunting starting out in business, we have been there.

That is why we created our accelerator program(s) to help you create something great. Join our 12-week cohort of tech startups for Black founders by Black industry experts.

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