The Power of Ideas


Success is often just an idea away.  – Frank Tyger

Have you ever wondered why some ideas catch on, grow and become defining and others do not?  Why some ideas cut across time, cultures and place?  Why some ideas have a hold on us?

Take the idea of the public library – an idea attributed to Benjamin Franklin, at least in the U.S.  Why has this idea lived on from the time of few books, limited printing capacity, non-existent distribution networks and widespread illiteracy, to today, when none of these scarcities exist?

An idea can shape a solution and change over time and take on new forms and meanings.

In the case of the public library, the original idea may have been to increase literacy, to gain followership or simply to share the joy of reading among the community.

Housing books in a dedicated building is the physical expression of the idea and is what you and I picture in our minds when we think of what a library is.  Can you see it?  Brick building, tidy walkway, maybe a small statue in front with an inspiring caption, an announcement tacked to the door just above the hours of operation.

A big part of the idea of a public library is to serve as an information hub – a central repository of written and other media widely accessible to the public.

Yahoo, Google and other search engines are modern expressions of the concept of an information hub providing rapid search, ranking and retrieval of documents, data and resources.  Search engines are widely accessible to the public.   Others on the web do the warehousing and maintenance of the actual source materials.

Search engines are an evolved expression of an idea started more than 300 years ago.

With the march of time, the need for a physical space has become less important as a repository of books.  Yet today, public libraries are focal points for community engagement, learning, and social interaction while still acting as information hubs.

Have you ever thought about the characteristics of ideas or about what makes for a good idea, one worth pursuing?

Here are some thoughts.  Ideas are:

  • directive
  • inspirational, and,
  • transmittable

The idea for a public library directed both the form of the solution and the behavior of people needed to build, run and become users of the solution.

Powerful ideas inspire us.  “It is self-evident that all men are created equal”  is a pronouncement to strive toward.  It rings across the ages.

Some ideas resonate in our collective unconscience and some meet a universal human need.

That all people deserve a life of dignity is a paraphrase of The Gates Foundation’s former motto.  I know that idea resonates with people.  I’ve seen the pull of this idea among the people I have served in my work with client teams.

An idea is a kind of crystallized thought, or a philosophy, or a concept.   Ideas can manifest themselves in a single form or many forms.   A good idea is easy to understand, easy to remember and easy to share.  A good idea meets a clear and ongoing need, adds a new dimension to life or strikes something in our psyche.

The best ideas have the potential to make a lot of people’s lives better.

Chris Anderson, of TED talk fame, is very clear with potential TED speakers telling them their main job is to get across one idea to the audience.

That takes a lot of distilling.

It follows that the more refined the idea, the easier it is to communicate and to inspire others with.

It works well in writing whether crafting a sentence, a paragraph or a longer piece.  In business, a single idea – carefully wrought and well executed – can carry a company to fantastic heights.

If you believe the movie The Social Network, Facebook might have become a dating site selling ads rather than the mainstream social media powerhouse it has become.  It’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, created a new kind of network, one never before realizable in the pre-internet era.  He let the idea of Facebook take shape before he drew a fence around it.

And what of the benefits of ideas?   Have you ever thought about how many people have benefited by the idea that an extract from mold might fight bacteria?  How about public sewers?  Pasteurized milk?  The seatbelt?

In my own case how I conceive of myself and present to the world is a conscious choice.  It’s an idea.

I am a writer, a speaker, an instructor, a consultant, a facilitator and am developing myself as an idea catalyst.  I have co-founded startups, launched new products, been an advisor to founders and played an active role in building a startup community.

The bigger idea: I’m in the empowerment business.

Ideas usually form in the face of insight into a problem or an opportunity to make something better.  Some are ground-breaking like penicillin, the wheel or the public library.  Some are less so, yet all good ideas have the potential to improve or add to someone’s life experience.

My journey is about understanding how ideas develop,  how they spread and sometimes grow in importance, and how we can all learn to develop ideas that matter.

I’m driven by the thought that the world could be a better place if more people act on better ideas for their own lives, creative, business, scientific or societal endeavors.

I’m glad you’re here with me.



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