How to Breed an Innovative Business Idea — #3 of 31 Proven Skills
Skill #3: Navigate the Idea Universe*
The vastness of the cerebral expanse that ideas inhabit demands calculated, personal focus if they are to be engaged with beneficially. Ideas that can solve business problems are a worthwhile target, especially if they do so disproportionately well. Emulating successful business ideas is a sure strategy.
I was surprised to read in late 2020 that Peter Beck, CEO of the Rocket Lab launch startup, claimed to CNN Business that congestion caused by the sheer number of objects now in space — due to active satellites and explorations past — was making it difficult to find a clear path for rockets to launch new satellites.
Having mastered the stupendous achievement of escaping the gravitational pull of the earth, I assumed that the remainder of a space mission would be relatively straightforward. It seems unexpectedly difficult.
The idea of outer space
It occurred to me that the mission of generating ideas is like that.
Ideas occupy a universe but, before that can be traversed, one needs to break free from the widespread, entrenched belief that having ideas is not a controllable activity. But, once that is overcome, the detritus of the idea universe must be steered through.
Having spent many years researching and discussing the notion of being able to have an innovative idea whenever you want one, I have noticed that most people do not appear excited by the potential. Given the obvious benefit of such a capability, they should be. So, why aren’t they?
There are several possible reasons but a plausible one is that the word “idea” carries a lot of baggage … and has for a long time.
Consider this from the 1913 Edition of Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary:
“There is scarcely any other word which is subjected to such abusive treatment as is the word idea, in the very general and indiscriminative [sic] way in which it is employed, as it is used variously to signify almost any act, state, or content of thought.”
The concept of an idea is thus vast in its spread and is not amenable to being easily grasped. Ideas occupy an entire universe of their own but, in order for it to be navigated, just like during contemporary space travel, the debris of the idea universe must be discerned and overcome.
To borrow a quip from full-time baseball legend and part-time philosopher, Yogi Berra:
“If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.”
Space travel with Yogi Berra
This insightful quip is a good reason for looking back at the representation of the idea universe at the head of this article. We must be clear about where we are going.
If we were going to navigate the idea universe in a spacecraft, a suitable name — with a respectful nod to the creators of Star Trek — would be the starship Enterprise, because our innovative intentions are overwhelmingly commercial. We seek business ideas. And, to quote the captain of the Enterprise, James T Kirk, “To boldly go where no man [or woman] has gone before”, we cannot afford to drift about in a boundaryless expanse of idea make-believe.
Therefore, generating business ideas defines our mission. However, in both business literature and practice, overwhelmingly the emphasis is on innovation at the organizational level when it comes to generating business ideas. There is a dearth of attention paid to how someone personally innovates. Having this focus further tightens the path of our voyage.
And, with business ideas themselves, conventional responses to typical business problems predominate. Usually, problems are solved with an investment that is commensurate with the result achieved. What you pay for is what you get. But, this option is not on our flight path. We are only interested in business ideas that are innovative — that is, the result achieved is significantly greater in value terms than the effort employed to achieve it. Our rocket thrust setting specifies an inherently appealing effort to value ratio: Small effort: Big Result.
Finally, our flight path tightly follows a tested and proven route. As enjoyable as exploration through freewheeling techniques such as brainstorming might appear, let us take the sort of advice typically given to Captain James T Kirk by the very rational Mr. Spock: “Insufficient facts always invite danger.” We should follow trajectories that successful innovators have forged before us rather than blast off on an orbit of our own.
We will leave the last word to Yogi Berra as well:
“Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”
Except this time, let’s not take his advice.
Takeaway [Flight Plan]
* Research has shown that there are 31 Personal Innovative Skills that can be learned