A friend (Dave Freeman) whom I met while I was involved with the indie game development scene back in 2007, posted this today on Facebook:
Let me tell you a little story about innovation and creativity. Years ago, I worked on a wiki-based project to find the first instance of ideas/techniques in video games (like the first game to use cameras as weapons, or the first game to have stealth as a play element). It excited me to dig to give credit to those who laid the foundations of ideas that we now take for granted. I couldn’t wait to show the world how creative and innovative these unknown game designers/developers were.
I went into it with much passion and excitement, but unexpectedly, it turned out that there were almost no “firsts”. Every time someone put up a game that was the first to do/contain something, there was another earlier game put up to replace it with a SLIGHTLY less sophisticated, or SLIGHTLY different version of the same thing. The gradient was so smooth and constant that eventually, the element we were focusing on lost meaning. It became an unremarkable point to address at all. We ended up constantly overwriting people’s work with smaller, less passionate articles, containing a bunch of crappy games that only technically were the first to do something in the crudest manner. Sometimes only aesthetically.
After a lot of time sunk into this project, I came to the conclusion that I was mistaken about innovation/creativity. It would have been a better project to track the path of ideas/techniques than to try to find the first instance of an idea/technique. I held innovation so highly for years before that, but after this project, I saw just how small it was. How it was but a tiny extension of the thoughts of millions before it. A tiny mutation of a microscopic speck that laid on top of a mountain. It was a valuable experience that helped me very much creatively.
I’ve learned this to be true as well, and this example articulates it so well. Coincidentally, had a discussion with another friend last night about Bitcoin (what’s new?). It really is a perfect storm of ideas that incrementally came together. There were proof-of-work systems before (Hashcash), and all the technology existed for quite a while. The incremental innovation here was combining the technology (cryptography), the proof-of-work system with the idea of a public shared ledger.
Ultimately. Creativity and innovation happens when ideas meet. And to make that happen, you need to become a vessel for ideas. No matter how mundane, or arbitrary, you need to want to learn and enquire. You want to talk to people, learn what ideas are in their minds, and combine it with your own ideas (sort of like Sylar in Heroes, but for ideas). You’d want to get other people together so they can share their ideas. And you’d want to openly share your ideas so they can manifest themselves in other people’s minds. I’m starting to sounds like Jason Silva here.
As Jack Dorsey also says in his foundation interview with Kevin Rose (starts at 14min):
One of the best things you can do as an entrepreneur is to not only rely luck. You have to cultivate the ability to recognise fortunate situations when they present themselves.
To innovate, you must become a vessel for ideas and realise the fortunate situations when they present themselves.