Sunday, May 19, 2013

Good Ideas vs the Status Quo

One of the true life lessons I accidentally learned while studying for my engineering degrees was: even ideas that far surpass what's currently out there will not gain traction unless that idea in practice is a more convenient and cost effective compared to what already exists. (Technical example: Even though silicon is not a material conducive to efficiently produce lasers (a big limitation for silicon-based microprocessors), today's computers are still silicon-based because the manufacturing process for working with silicon are so cost effective compared to what might theoretically be the preferred choice: Gallium Arsenide.)

Whenever a new idea comes on the scene, in order for it to be adopted as the new standard, it has to not only be inherently better on paper, but also has to overcome the tremendous inertia of the existing infrastructure. It's good to keep this in mind, because when working on your own new ideas, it can be frustrating to realize that a more efficient solution to common problems might exist, but everyone seems to be ignoring it. Instead of spending energy complaining about why these 'brilliant' ideas are not adopted, it can be useful to figure out the practical reasons why the existing systems prevail. There is a cost to manifesting new ideas in an existing environment. Unless someone's really good at marketing, it seems to me only incrementally good ideas will fall by the wayside, and only ideas that improve the status quo by at least an order of magnitude (ie: a paradigm shift) have a chance to gain traction.

When taking on the responsibility of manifesting new ideas (as an entrepreneur), unexpected, but practical problems, might actually provide crucial insight as to why the current paradigm does exist. That experience can at least provide valuable insight about the true complexity of the problem. Not to say the existing paradigms are the final solution, but at least realizing the true complexities of a problem removes artificial frustrations about why what appears to be the obvious solution is not adopted. Blindsides happen when focus is too limited and you are still buffeted by unseen effects from the full system. At least making the effort to solve the problems you see would (at worse) reveal more factors to take into consideration. You can then rework the problem from this new perspective, or you might decide what you thought was a problem, is actually a decent solution.

So it seems a big win either way to put your energy where your mouth is, so to speak. By investing energy in your own ideas, you either learn more about crucial variables you had overlooked, or you are successful at providing a helpful solution to a tough problem!

-by Laura A Knauth

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