There Really Are No New Ideas In the World

Posted: September 25, 2011 by Joseph Carter in Innovation, Startup

There Really Are No New Ideas In the World

How do entrepreneurs create ideas for successful new business ventures?  Were they born with some special component within their DNA that enables them to be more creative and resourceful than others?  John Kord Murray, an aerospace engineer that founded multiple new ventures and later became the head of innovation at Intuit, says no.  He asserts that the ability to be creative is a learned process and that “anyone can master it in order to build successful business innovations.” In his book, Borrowing Brilliance, The Six Steps to Business Innovation by Building on the Ideas of Others, he outlines the process that anyone can use to create new business opportunities.   Below is a brief overview of the concepts outlined in Murray’s book.  It is my hope that you consider becoming more familiar with Murray’s process as a means to create and launch new business ventures in our region.

Defining.  Define the problem you are trying to solve.  “A problem is the foundation of a creative idea”. Successful entrepreneurs (both for-profit and not-for-profit entrepreneurs) are effective at identifying, prioritizing, and solving problems that are important to current and / or future targeted customers.   When they focus on a problem they do so realizing that problems have multiple layers of causes.  They dig to find the “root-cause” to the problem they are focusing on because they realize this is where a potential business idea will surface.   To identify the specific root-cause to a problem they simply ask, “Why”?  Murray indicates that answering the question of “Why?” five times surfaces the root cause to almost any problem.

Borrowing.  Borrow ideas from a place with a similar problem.  Many times people look to overcome the causes to problems in the places they are most familiar.  If they are a retailer trying to solve a problem they only look to how other retailers do things.  If they manufacture a product they benchmark within their own industry to find a solution.  Remember that solving problems important to your customers is critical, but doing so in fresh and innovative ways creates differentiation.  For example, a tax soft-ware company wanted to develop a new tax-software program.  They first benchmarked a competitor, then, they looked at how Yahoo! laid out their Help Center.  Then they went outside their industry to talk to a Hollywood producer who tells them that “movies are all about creating a conflict between a hero and a villain and the rest of the plot focuses on resolving that conflict.”  They borrowed the movie concept to develop an innovative tax-software program.  The user of the tax software becomes the hero and the IRS is the villain.

Combining.  Connect and combine these borrowed ideas.  “A creative idea is the fusion of two existing things to make a new thing.”  In this step you create a metaphor to help you further develop your idea.  In the example above, maybe the metaphor for the tax-software becomes where Robin Hood and his band of tax experts meet the tax villains of the IRS.

Incubating.  Allow the combinations to incubate into a solution.  This step in the creative process is where you let your idea rest.  You actually don’t do any conscious thinking about your idea at all.  You let your sub-conscious mind play with the idea.  To activate the sub-conscious mind around an idea some people find it useful to think about their idea before they go to bed; some people find it useful to take a bike ride on the Loveland Bike Trail to let their mind wander.  Whatever works best for you make sure you listen to your mind when it hands you an idea.

Judging.  Identify the strengths and weaknesses of the solution.  At this step the entrepreneur decides which ideas to pursue.  Some develop inexpensive ways to test their idea among a targeted group of customers to see if the idea is viable.  At this step you should expect to discover things about your product or service that need to be modified.  Also keep in mind that perfection is not the objective at this point.

Enhancing.  Eliminate the weak points while enhancing the strong ones.  Any new solution to a root cause, when implemented, creates another problem.  The solutions to those problems can become the source of new product and / or service offerings for your company.  Keep in mind this same technique can be applied to your competitor’s product and / or service offerings.

Murray said, “If you study the biographies of people like Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, George Lucas, Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs, you will discover a fascinating pattern: Everything they accomplished was built on the ideas of other people.” There are very few businesses that are launched from something totally new. The creative process is a learned process and you can learn to use it to bring a compelling idea to life.

John Kord Murray’s book is available at these links:   Cincinnati Public Library or at

  1. Elijah Hawk says:

    I would tend to disagree with you. It is the accepted knowledge of the past and present that is a stumbling block to creation of new ideas.

    For instance:

    “I am a very radical thinking Inventor with a revolutionary concept on space propulsion. I would like to see a aerospace craft capable of continuous 1g+ space flight. I have discovered a here-to-fore undiscovered mechanical phenomenon that works like a worm hole through the laws of physics that allows us to have an action without a equal and opposite reaction. Such a propulsion unit would be capable of providing the force necessary to produce such a craft with a reasonable amount of electrical consumption without the usual expulsion of mass or energy.”

    True Progress is always a product of New Ideas that have yet to exist.

    Elijah Hawk

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