The Wheel Rolls…
How do you turn brilliant ideas into a reality?
How do you handle revolutionary ideas?
Dagan Eshel, Strauss’s Innovation Manager, answers these questions and others in an article on ideas, wheels and cavemen
Before you continue to read this post, watch this clip (1:57 min.) > Caveman Focus Group – the Wheel and we’ll take it from there.
Now that you’ve seen the clip, you no doubt feel pleasantly superior to the group of cavemen you saw, you no doubt feel that you would have easily noticed the brilliance of the wheel, and that if you had the money you would have invested in it – a lot and immediately.
It is our tendency, as people who perceive themselves as sophisticated, open and devoid of intellectual barriers, to smirk at the questions or bewilderment expressed by the cavemen, and to deduce that they are simply undeveloped and unaccustomed to inventions and to judging them.
Sorry to burst your bubble, but there are countless examples that prove that we are all cavemen, and it is only the wheel that is changing.
Here are a few of these examples:
“When I examine the conclusion which everyone acquainted with the subject will recognize as a conspicuous failure, trumpeted as a wonderful success, I [conclude]… that the writer [Thomas Edison] …must either be very ignorant and the victim of deceit, or a conscious accomplice in what is nothing less than a fraud upon the public.”
Henry Morton, president of the Stevens Institute of Technology, on Edison’s light bulb, 1879
“That’s an amazing invention, but who would ever want to use one of them?”
Rutherford Birchard Hayes, 19th President of the United States, after a demonstration of the telephone between Washington and Philadelphia, 1897
“There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home.”
Ken Olsen, founder and CEO of Digital Equipment Corporation, at a World Future Society meeting in Boston, 1977
“You are announcing the death of literature.”
Said to Peter James, among the first authors to have his works published in e-book format, 1993
Everyone has an idea, an invention, that he or she has been thinking about for years and is sure will never be transformed into a reality.
Why does this happen?
There are more than a few reasons. I will discuss two of them that I consider to be key.
- Climbing Mount Improbable
In his book, which bears the above title, Richard Dawkins posits in the name of evolution – against creationists – that the creation of complex creatures (like us, for example) does not require divine planning (god) but can occur as a result of trial and error (mutation, circumstances, evolution), provided that these take place over a long enough time (billions of years).
Dawkins argues that the attempt to get from the bottom to the top of a mountain in a single leap is impossible, but when the journey is made gradually, step by step, although it may be long, it seems simple and possible.
When we encounter a revolutionary idea it is usually very far from what we know (sometimes the distance is several levels) in terms of technology as well as in terms of the impact it can generate on us, on society or on the environment. Sometimes there are gaps of several levels of knowledge and imagination between us and the components of the idea, and these levels cannot be bridged in a single thought, which is what usually happens when we encounter an idea (to immediately oppose it); rather, the cliffs and passes must be climbed gradually and slowly. In this way, transforming the idea into a reality is likely to seem possible.
Quality time is what we need, not just with the kids but with ideas as well.
- The Possible and the Necessary
The second reason, in my opinion, for the difficulty in dealing with revolutionary ideas is the attempt to contain two parameters, which cannot be contained together, in a single thought:
Is it possible? Meaning, can the technology that was demonstrated to us be implemented?
Is it necessary? Does the benefit that will be obtained by implementing the technology have meaningful value for the consumer?
If we try to think these two thoughts simultaneously, one gnaws away at the other and this is what happens: there will always be a degree of skepticism in our minds regarding “is it possible?”, and then we might persuade ourselves and say that “it works”, but not as well as we were told, and since the second thought, “is it necessary?”, is also there in our head, we will immediately switch to it and complete the process as logically called for, “if doesn’t work completely, then it definitely won’t deliver value”.
In this situation, we will quickly reach the conclusion that we aren’t interested in the idea and we will abandon it, like so many others.
I believe that the right way to approach revolutionary ideas is first to set aside the question whether or not the technology will work, and focus on the question whether it will create meaningful value for the consumer. In other words, “Is it necessary?”
If we find that even if the technology works amazingly it still has no benefit, then there is no point in finding out if it will work. But if the benefit that can be obtained from the technology has the potential of being great, then there is good reason to go back and explore its feasibility, and even to invest the necessary resources to develop the technology until it is mature and capable of creating the consumer value we thought it could.
In summary, revolutionary ideas are liable to be complex to grasp, some may be able to bring about a real revolution and deliver a huge benefit to society and to the Company. If we devote the time needed and the structured thinking required for development and to review the potential values these ideas embody, and reach the conclusion that they are meaningful enough, we will be justified in investing the considerable resources necessary to take the technology from the world of ideas to the world of action.
If you have an idea for a brilliant invention sitting there in your head for years, please email it to me. Who knows, we may yet invent the next wheel!