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Even the idea that new ideas exist, is not a new idea. Innovation is the introduction of new things or methods. To be fair, I think you have to break those down further to truly understand if something is new. Take the wheel for example. The wheel itself was a good invention, by many accounts, it probably was one of the greatest inventions; but, is a wooden wheel the same as a wheel designed for an airplane, no. I would argue that new ideas in today’s world are very rare, new ways of applying old ideas is what you typically discover.

Why is that? A saying I have heard a lot these days is that “necessity is the mother of all inventions.” I think that is true but relative to each invention are other factors such as, ability, knowledge and environment. Product innovation is different than process innovation and innovation is different than invention, however, all are applied to ideas.

I would go one step further to challenging the idea that new processes are not found easily as well, well not in the common sense. Let’s continue this thought by asking a few questions:

  • What defines a new idea?
  • Can an idea be relative?
  • When does an idea cease the be new?

If we apply the logic above regarding the 3 factors, ability, knowledge, and environment we will assume the following:

  • Ability – One’s ability is defined as someone’s capability both physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.
  • Knowledge –  One’s ability is defined by his or her known awareness and understanding of someone or something and to what extent.
  • Environment – Refers to the condition and make up of the current environment, which consist of condition, culture, and geography, and assumes that the current laws of physics apply.

Taking these factors into consideration, and asking the questions above, we get a sense of why new ideas are harder to find. More importantly, we tend to confuse simple ideas with complex mature execution of those ideas. We have all experienced this confusion when we see a product advertised on TV or maybe Shark Tank and immediately say, “that was my idea!” People tend to be better at critiquing than executing their own abilities and that is why ability is listed first.  Ability is tied more directly to one’s willingness to execute from a non-physical capability than it is a physical one. This is where the confusion of ideas versus actions play specific roles.

One’s ability may or may not determine the level of uniqueness of one’s idea, but it is a factor to consider if the idea is in fact new and furthermore, if it is net new versus process improvement. This is where knowledge plays a big role in understanding if an idea is truly new and directly relates to our question above, “can an idea be relative?” If I have an idea that is new to me; meaning I have never thought it before, can someone else have the same idea, and it be considered new? One’s knowledge plays a big role in the perception of a new idea. As our society communicates more broadly, newer ideas become less frequent due to awareness of similarities of designed thinking. You may have noticed, I did not say design but designed. This was intentional as I am merely saying that there is a design to our thinking that is pre-programed. Some may call this instinct, but given the vast array of differences in time, place and culture, the conclusions to problems become very predictable. One’s ability to grasp an idea is key to discovery new ideas instead of simply reinventing the method.

How we look at the world greatly depends on which lens we are looking through. If someone has the ability and the knowledge to create a new idea, one must also be in an environment that creates a need for that idea to exist in the first place. You could almost say that environment is the most important factor to consider when understanding what creates new ideas. Our resistance to change is tied directly to our desire to control, yet our fear to move, outweighs our desire to act. It is environment that forces us to respond and it is in this cycle of uncontrollable change that creates new ideas to resolve and to place balance back in our favor. Reaction does not consider if it is new, it only matters that it happened.  A new idea is just that, a reaction experienced for the first time.

Scientific discoveries are happening each day, people are continuing to develop new ways to tackle problems, ideas are challenged and new ideas exposed. New ideas may or may not be relevant, but they are necessary to mature and to evolve. Truly new ideas may be harder to find, but only because you are not doing or thinking.