[EAS] Ideas are Easy

pjk pjk at design.eng.yale.edu
Thu Dec 11 23:35:27 EST 2003

Subject:   Ideas are Easy

(from INNOVATION, 19 November 2003)

Much attention has been focused on the challenge of generating
innovative  business ideas, but authors Thomas Davenport and H.
James Wilson contend  that ideas are actually cheap and plentiful.
The tough part comes in  putting them into practice. The most
central role in the process is played  by the idea practitioner --
someone who specializes in idea implementation.  Idea practitioners
determine what makes sense for their companies, modify  the ideas to
suit their needs, and mobilize their organizations to turn  those
ideas into reality. The first challenge for an idea practitioner is 
identifying an idea worth its salt. Many of the best ideas are the
result  of refining and combining several ideas, and many bring in
solutions that  originate outside the field in question. The idea
practitioner must also  make the idea appealing, something best done
by describing it as simply and  clearly as possible. Fancy words and
complex jargon don't attract, inspire  or motivate. And perhaps the
biggest mistake an idea advocate can make is to define the idea in
terms of technology: the best ideas have a social  focus, with
technology positioned as an enabler. Davenport and Wilson  write,
"Surprisingly, the most successful idea-driven companies are those 
that continually find ways to place people -- rather than ideas or 
technologies -- front-and-center in the design and implementation
process." (Optimize Magazine Nov 2003)

These things go in cycles. When I first became seriously active in
technology (electronics in my case) in the mid-1960's, ideas ruled.
Not that implementation wasn't tough in those early days of
semiconductors, but ideas were sort of like the promise for an
immigrant arriving at US shores, that with hard work the sky was the
Through the '70s and 80s I was part of a shift toward "it's worth
something only if you can make it work," not a bad time for someone
who knew how to do that.
Then in the '90s we had the well-known explosion of futuristic
thinking, fuelled by Moore's Law and the Internet. It wasn't just a
time of inflated valuation of ideas, but being so enraptured by them
that they became the basis of claims that the fundamental rules of
economics and much else no longer applied. That provided a lot of
aerobic exercise consuming the "oxygen" of venture capital, and
leading to muscle-flexing competition on false premises (e.g. in the
telecomm industries) which sent most everyone down the tubes. We're
not entirely out of that phase yet, because although reality checks
impinge quickly on industry, they are slower to impinge on academic
settings which are always fuelled by ideas, though it matters which
But although books about how to generate ideas still get published
almost weekly, the item above reinforces my hope that we are
swinging back toward a balance with the "enablement requirement," a
term describing that for a patent to be valid it  has to "teach" how
to make the idea work. What a novel idea!


More information about the EAS-INFO mailing list