Thoughts on Spreading Ideas Well

You are responsible for getting your ideas to spread. How can you do this more effectively?

The first step is to connect ideas creatively – this is the fundamental creative act in innovation.

Here are some thoughts on this from Noam Chomsky, discussing the role of education in an excellent post from Maria Popova:

You have to know how to evaluate, interpret, and understand… The person who wins the Nobel Prize is not the person who read the most journal articles and took the most notes on them. It’s the person who knew what to look for. And cultivating that capacity to seek what’s significant, always willing to question whether you’re on the right track — that’s what education is going to be about, whether it’s using computers and the Internet, or pencil and paper, or books.

This is a great point. For a long time I thought that the thing that made me different was that I was able to process a lot of information quickly. But as Chomsky points out, this isn’t where real value is created. Value comes from connecting ideas in a novel way.

So that’s the skill that I’m trying to develop now – connecting ideas. In an excerpt from his upcoming book, Jonah Lehrer talks about how connecting ideas is the core of creativity, and that this is a skill that you can learn:

Steve Jobs famously declared that “creativity is just connecting things.” Although we think of inventors as dreaming up breakthroughs out of thin air, Mr. Jobs was pointing out that even the most far-fetched concepts are usually just new combinations of stuff that already exists. Under Mr. Jobs’s leadership, for instance, Apple didn’t invent MP3 players or tablet computers—the company just made them better, adding design features that were new to the product category.

And it isn’t just Apple. The history of innovation bears out Mr. Jobs’s theory. The Wright Brothers transferred their background as bicycle manufacturers to the invention of the airplane; their first flying craft was, in many respects, just a bicycle with wings. Johannes Gutenberg transformed his knowledge of wine presses into a printing machine capable of mass-producing words. Or look at Google: Larry Page and Sergey Brin came up with their famous search algorithm by applying the ranking method used for academic articles (more citations equals more influence) to the sprawl of the Internet.

The article includes 10 ideas for improving your ability to connect ideas, and it is well worth reading.

You’ve got better ideas, so now what? You have to find your audience. It’s not everyone.

Justine Musk has some good ideas about how to do this – she’s talking about blogs, but the principle is general:

Figure out who your people are.
Talk to them. Create for them. And only them.

I would suggest, though, that instead of thinking in terms of niche, you think in terms of purpose. What is the purpose of your blog? What is the Big Meaning? And I don’t mean in terms of what you want it to accomplish for you – although that is an important question – but what you want it to accomplish for others. What do you want to give people? What change in the world, however big or small, do you want to work toward?
[Hers is] To write about the power journey, as a creative and as a woman.
When you know what your purpose is, you can filter everything through it: every decision, every blog post, the books and articles and blogs you read in order to come up with and incubate ideas.

The interesting thing here is that your audience and your message influences the information that you take in, which in turn changes the ideas that you end up connecting.

Here is how my friend Gerard Creamer put it in a comment on this post:

I thought it was common knowledge that creativity / innovation is the juxtiposition of two previously discrete concepts. The trick is joining things that create something that delivers value. pen + watch = fail. shave + subscription = win. I think the last actual new invention was the microwave oven :^)

To which I responded:

The microwave was just atomic bomb + popcorn = win!

Innovation is all about connecting ideas.

So, you have built your skill in connecting ideas, and you know who you are trying to speak to. Now what? Now you have to communicate your ideas.

Here, we’ll listen to Einstein:

So to spread ideas effectively, you must:

  • Start with a great idea. This will likely be the result of combining existing ideas creatively.
  • Find the tribe that cares about these ideas.
  • Communicate the idea as clearly and as simply as possible.

Noam Chomsky, Jonah Lehrer, Justine Musk, Albert Einstein and my friend Gerard can’t be wrong!

Student and teacher of innovation - University of Queensland Business School - links to academic papers, twitter, and so on can be found here.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

3 thoughts on “Thoughts on Spreading Ideas Well

  1. I love the quote from Justine Musk, Tim. There are 7Bn people in the world. If we can make a difference in the lives of people who are 1-in-a-million, that’s 7,000 people.

    What could your business do with 7,000 customers who feel like your business only exists to make their lives better?

    A lot, methinks.

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