Not Invented Here

Nothing comes from nothing

I sat in a meeting the other day, it was a nightmare…

Two guys were trying to extol the benefits of automation to a team of sales managers.  The tension was palpable.  In one corner stood a bunch of consultants trying to explain the latest and greatest thinking in operational improvement.  All based on artificial intelligence.  At the other end of the room sat a bunch of professional “relationship managers”.  Their  body language screamed unhappiness.  Arms were crossed, eyes didn’t blink and mouths issued the frostiest of silences.

The consultants became desperate as the objections from the sales managers flourished.

This is a relationship business

You can’t do anything for us with your robots.

Your tools are irrelevant

It will never work here.

Ideas build on each other

There is no such thing as a completely new idea.  Every step we make is based on the combination of different ideas that create something new.

In Strasbourg in 1450 Johannes Gutenberg created the printing press.  Arguably the greatest invention of all time.  Before its development books were copied by hand or stamped out with wood blocks.  Gutenberg’s genius was to create metal movable type.  He joined the flexibility of a coin punch with the power of a wine press.  His invention started the knowledge revolution.

In 1996 Larry Page and Sergey Brin created Google’s search algorithm.  Their approach was like that of Gutenberg.  They took the ranking principal of the academic world and applied it to the burgeoning web.  The resulting search engine presented the best and most widely referenced web pages.  A second revolution in the spread of ideas.

Combination drives innovation

Everywhere you look progress comes from mixes and mash-ups:

  • Blocked Filter + Sawmill Cyclone = Dyson Cleaner
  • Fast Food + Motor Racing Pit Stop = Drive Thru’
  • Landing Gear + Perambulator = Maclaren Buggy

The way to create something new is to mix two old ideas.

It shines through in the way we talk…

The language we use reflects the way we think.  That language is chock full of terms and concepts that we have bashed together to create a third.  How about: bio-technology, docudrama, electronic book, fish farm, home office, mass customisation, mobile home, plastic glasses and virtual reality?

Perhaps the Germans are so inventive because of their habit of stringing words together.  Gedankenfreiheit ~ freedom of thought (or for comedy value Backpfeifengesicht ~ a face in need of a slap)

… and the jobs we choose

Many of the jobs we do now are the result of this constant meshing of ideas.  When I left University there was no such thing as a mobile phone app developer or a data scientist.  Would it be wise for me to recommend a career in Law, Medicine or Accountancy to my daughters?  Or will things move on?

Killing creativity

Next time you meet a not invented here culture, ask yourself if anything ever was?  Rather than saying “it will never work” a more productive strategy might be to ask “which bit would?”

If nothing else, your meetings won’t be so frosty.

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Image by JRP


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