Where do great ideas come from? Standing on the shoulders of giants? What does that mean? It means different things to different people. For me, it is building on the work of others. It is learning about great ideas from others. Is there anything new under the sun? What does it mean to you to stand on the shoulders of others?
“Everything has been thought of before, but the problem is to think of it again,” says Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Is that true? Where do your great ideas come from? How will you know when a great idea is staring you in the eye?
Every successful product and service started with a great idea, but where do great ideas come from?
About 10 years ago, by way of an email survey, I decided to explore the concept of great ideas. I asked the following questions and twelve people of varying backgrounds took the time to share their views. I was curious and wanted to hear from others. This wasn’t a scientific study.
- Where do great ideas come from?
- Do great ideas come only to some people?
- How will you know if you have a really great idea?
- What constitutes a great idea?
Here are the thoughts of survey respondents about what a great idea is:
- “An idea that gives someone a new perspective or way in which to see the world.
- Something that helps mankind to create, evolve or develop in some specific way.
- Fresh, in the sense that I haven’t heard it before and it offers a solution to a challenge that may be long-standing or a challenge that I may not even be aware of yet.
- An idea that fills a need that is greater than personal self interest; a need that will serve others be they constituents, shareholders, stakeholders or the public at large.”
When it came to determining if there was a process for generating ideas, the responses were different, and it showed that there wasn’t a clear process for generating great ideas.
- “Pray and meditate, knowing that the answers will come when the time is right.
- Respond to a stimuli that starts me thinking which results in a new idea.
- Read the best that has been thought and said about things that really matter, talk to thoughtful people about things that really matter, spend time reflecting on things that really matter and prepare the soil as best as you can.
- Ideas are always out there. You just have to put two different ideas or thoughts together to create something new.
- Sit quietly and wait for them [ideas] to come to me from the depths of my subconscious.
- Brainstorm everything I am thinking about on a piece of paper, then look for ideas that will connect with those ideas using the internet, newspaper, books and so on. Look at the context in which you want to use the ideas then add, subtract or combine ideas, and once you have a great idea look at how to implement it.
- Think about the situation and think about the best possible solution, even if it’s an impossible solution.”
Great ideas came to respondents at different times. One respondent had a Eureka moment while sitting in church watching and listening to a group of musicians. For others it happened immediately after praying and meditating, talking and trading insights and reading a book on the subject matter. For others it happened after a process of thinking and visualization.
So, how do you know when you’ve got a great idea?
- “You have a gut sense that the idea will help you fulfill the triple bottom line; best self, best work and contribute to my best world.
- It comes as a revelation. It gives you an understanding of something.
- It comes back into your mind again and again and you can’t ignore it.
- When other people are excited by it and want to get involved.
- Some great ideas come before their time. They won’t succeed because of conditions, circumstances, attitudes, belief and so on. Success or failure alone is not the judge.
- When you feel bliss in its execution.
- You become very excited and can see the possibilities that can generate from the idea. You know that your idea is good when you see the entire picture and everything becomes “crystal clear.”
- When everything is in sync, your mind, body and your heart.”
In Standing on the Shoulders of Giants (Part II), I will delve more deeply and highlight the common traits of the great thinkers and scientists who have changed the world. And it should not surprise you that they built on the work of others.
First published in April 2009
Books About Finding/Generating Ideas
Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of InnovationThe MacGyver Secret: Connect to Your Inner MacGyver and Solve AnythingWill It Fly? How to Test Your Next Business Idea So You Don’t Waste Your Time and MoneyBecome An Idea Machine: Because Ideas Are The Currency Of The 21st CenturyA Technique for Producing Ideas (Advertising Age Classics Library) by James Webb Young (2003) PaperbackMake Your Idea Matter: Stand out with a better storySprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five DaysThe Bright Idea Box: A Proven System to Drive Employee Engagement and InnovationThe Idea Lifestyle Bundle: An Effective System to Fulfill Dreams, Create Successful Business Ideas, and Become a World-Class Impromptu Speaker in Record Time