Why is it that I always get my best ideas while shaving? – Albert Einstein
The man with a new idea is a crank until the idea succeeds – Mark Twain
Several ideas that have contributed significantly to humanity and changed the way we do things have come by accident. The micro-wave oven, dynamite, Velcro, the pacemaker, Viagra and anesthesia are all products of serendipity. In addition, serendipitous ideas can come from contemporary experiences that most people would ordinarily despise. I can relate with Einstein when he says that his best ideas have come to him while shaving. Although I cannot say mine was while shaving, I can confirm that many of the ideas that have brought me great fulfillment were inspired in the bathroom. Ideas can come while reading a book. They can come while engaging in or listening to a conversation. They can also come as sequel to the attendance of an event. Sometimes, brilliant but “crazy” ideas have emerged as the aftermath of a meeting with a mentor or even a protégé. Ideas don’t give notice before coming. Just keep your eyes, ears and brain open!
There are basically two types of ideas. Napoleon Hill identifies them as SYNTHETIC and AUTHENTIC. A synthetic idea is an idea that seeks to improve on an idea that is already in existence. The Personal Computer was not invented by IBM or HP. It was invented by Rank Xerox! But hardly anyone remembers that today because of what IBM and HP have done with the product. The first mechanical wrist watch is said to have been invented in Switzerland. Over a period of several years, the Swiss became famous for their wrist watches and those watches became the benchmark for every other country or brand. An improvement on the mechanical wrist watch was the digital wrist watch that displayed time in Liquid Crystal. This was also said to have been invented by another Swiss national. However, Swiss watch makers and investors took no notice of it until a Trade Fair sometimes in the seventies changed the equation. The Japanese were at the Fair and saw the digital wrist watch on display. They took a good look at it. The rest they say, is history! Every new model of a car, irrespective of how it is powered, is simply an improvement on Henry Ford’s authentic invention, the motor car! A synthetic idea is however no less a breakthrough idea. The continuous improvement culture is encapsulated by the Japanese concept of “Kaizen”. Sometimes, improvement on an existing idea or product could just be a slight change in the content, the flavor or the presentation of the idea in a way that significantly improves on the foundational idea.
An authentic idea on the other hand is what can be regarded as an original idea at the time it was conceived. Usually conceived as an idea that never existed or was not known to exist at the time, authentic ideas actually demand some sometimes earth-shaking shifts in thinking. An authentic idea forces us to think outside the box. In actual fact, they simply break the box! More often than not, originators of such are usually viewed by the rest of society whose world-view is usually limited by what they have got used to in their daily experience, as crazy or irrational ‘cranks’ who need their sanity reexamined. New ideas usually break the frontiers of “collective reasoning” and contemporary professional opinion. Originators of new ideas stand on the fringes of contemporary collective thought and interrogate reality with reframed questions. When the rest of society says this is the only way it can be done, they ask “Why?” When the rest of us say something cannot be done, they ask “Why not?” When Henry Ford first mooted the idea of a car, professional engineers actually pontificated that no man could travel at a speed faster than a horse unless he wanted to commit suicide! Henry Ford was once said to have been arrested for practicing engineering without a licence!
Inventors are people who are willing at all times, to swim against the tide. Thomas Edison, the man who invented the incandescent light bulb was literally begging people to try it out because practically everyone believed that their oil lamps served them better! He went ahead to patent over 1000 other inventions! According to Albert Einstein, “If at first the idea is not absurd, there is no hope for it!” For someone who was written off in early school years as a dullard but who went ahead to propound the Theory of Relativity which has been the basis of the atomic bomb and nuclear sciences, he should know!
To the Christian, Abraham is known as the father of faith. But it would not have been so if he had not moved against the tide. Every idea God gave him was unprecedented.
“Leave your family and city of abode” at the age of 75!
“Go and get circumcised.” at the age of ninety nine! And to crown it all, he was asked to sacrifice a son that he had waited till he was a hundred years old to get. Even today, to many who read his story, it still does not make sense!
Contrary to what many believe, breakthrough ideas are not the exclusive preserve of only a privileged few that God was partial enough to have a special liking for. Anyone who has a brain and can think has – or will have at one time or the other – had a few breakthrough ideas. You may then ask the question, “How come not everybody is successful or has significantly impacted humanity with their ideas?” Simple. Not every dreamer does something about their dreams. Most dreams die even before they pass the conception stage. This is because most of us are conformists who would rather not endure public outcry on the ‘ridiculousness’ of our ideas. We mostly find it difficult to stand up to criticism and cannot stand rejection. Our insatiable craving for approval and affirmation is the number one crippling factor of original thought. Yet the best ideas looked too simple and stupid at the onset! In fact, the only reason why many people never progress with their idea is because it appears too simple and pedestrian that you ask yourself a self-sabotaging question, “If it was this simple, why aren’t other people already doing it?”
Sam Walton was the founder of America’s largest supermarket chain Wal-Mart and its wholesale membership only counterpart, Sam’s Club. When he opened the first Wal-Mart Store in 1962, his competitors believed that it would only be a matter of time before he would go bankrupt. Why? Nobody believed that a business that offered the lowest prices possible along with excellent customer service could go the long haul. Walton died in 1992 but the business keeps growing… continued.
Remember, the sky is not your limit, God is!