How Novel Ideas Lead to Breakthrough Discoveries

June 5, 2019

Just because others can’t see it, doesn’t mean it can’t be. It just means it isn’t yet.

This summer, my son Mike is working in Boston, interning with a startup.

Last weekend, I helped him move into his first apartment. I also had an opportunity to visit him at work (just saying that sounds crazy to me). During my visit, I was amazed by the energy and excitement of his work setting. I asked him how this job differed from last summer’s job. He said last year, the work was routine. He knew exactly what he had to do and did it every day. This year, the work is different each day. The work is crafted in the morning through conversation, based on what they learned the day or week before. It’s dynamic and nothing about it is routine. They are trying to test and commercialize a novel idea. It’s extremely exploratory and Mike loves that excitement.

The startup is part of the Harvard Innovation Labs on the Harvard Business School campus. The space is excellent and the energy is contagious. I observed all types of people sharing space and ideas. You can almost see them dreaming and thinking. They are not threatened or frustrated by failure – failure is necessary learning that will help them bring their idea to reality.

Truthfully, I got excited just being there.PB-US-Blog-Novel-idea-inline

Unbiased thinking

When I headed back to my hotel, I was inspired enough to dig up an article I read a while back: What Sets Breakthrough Strategies Apart

When I originally read the article, it struck a chord with me because it talked about debating assumptions and testing them as you try to get new ideas off the ground. But after visiting Mike and rereading it, I was struck by this:

“We think that venture capitalist and PayPal cofounder Peter Thiel gets it roughly right when he asks prospective entrepreneurs to tell him something they believe is true that nobody agrees with them about.”

How novel.

Breakthroughs are ideas that others can’t see.

And just because others can’t see it, doesn’t mean it can’t be. It just means it isn’t yet.

Sometimes at work, it seems easier to suffocate novel ideas by saying it doesn’t seem logical. It doesn’t fit the world the way *we* see it.

But there are buildings filled with people that see the world differently than we do, especially young people entering the workforce, full of unbiased thinking. And thankfully, they are challenging conventional wisdom.

Challenging ourselves

For my son, pursuing a novel idea is fun. But it’s not easy. He and his team still have to prove it works. We need more of us thinking and saying things that others can’t see or won’t say. We need to really challenge ourselves to remove unconscious bias and share ideas more freely. That alone would be novel – and one novel idea can be tomorrow’s breakthrough.

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Al Chiaradonna