Don’t Start From Scratch: How Innovative Ideas Arise


Hatched by Glasp

Sep 22, 2023

3 min read


Don’t Start From Scratch: How Innovative Ideas Arise

Starting from scratch is usually a bad idea. It might seem counterintuitive, but the truth is that creative progress is rarely the result of throwing out all previous ideas and innovations and completely re-imagining the world. Instead, the most creative innovations often emerge from new combinations of old ideas. This concept is beautifully illustrated by the story of the Wright brothers and their quest to create the world's first flying machine.

The Wright brothers were not the first people to dream of human flight. They were inspired by the work of countless inventors who came before them, including Otto Lilienthal, Octave Chanute, and Samuel Langley. Rather than starting from scratch, the Wright brothers learned from and built upon the work of these pioneers.

This idea of building upon existing knowledge and ideas is applicable not just in the field of aviation, but in many other areas as well. When faced with a complex problem, it is usually better to build upon what already works. By doing so, we can leverage the knowledge and expertise that already exists and avoid reinventing the wheel.

But how do we go about building upon existing ideas? One approach is to iterate, rather than originate. Instead of trying to come up with entirely new ideas, we can start with existing ideas and make small tweaks and improvements. This incremental approach allows us to gradually refine and enhance existing concepts, leading to truly innovative solutions.

Another important aspect of building upon existing ideas is recognizing the interconnectedness of things. Often, we are blind to the remarkable interplay between different ideas, concepts, and fields. By actively seeking out connections and exploring the relationships between seemingly unrelated ideas, we can uncover new and exciting possibilities.

In the world of marketplaces, this idea of building upon existing ideas is crucial. Take Airbnb, for example. The company has created a platform that connects hosts with guests, revolutionizing the way people travel and find accommodation. But Airbnb didn't start from scratch. They learned from the successes and failures of other marketplaces and built upon their knowledge.

In a blog post titled "Hierarchy of Marketplaces - Level 2," the author discusses the importance of reaching a new happiness threshold in marketplaces. According to the author, to increase happiness, marketplaces need to grow. However, this growth must be in service of increasing happiness. The key is to create better and better matches between buyers and sellers over time.

One way Airbnb has achieved this is by implementing a system that allows guests to easily identify great hosts. This not only provides clarity to hosts about expected behaviors but also creates a better experience for guests. By reducing friction in the transaction and providing value to both hosts and guests, Airbnb has been able to scale beyond its early adopters.

To apply these principles to your own endeavors, here are three actionable pieces of advice:

  • 1. Embrace the power of iteration: Instead of starting from scratch, look for ways to build upon existing ideas and make incremental improvements. This approach allows you to leverage existing knowledge and avoid reinventing the wheel.
  • 2. Seek out connections: Explore the interplay between different ideas, concepts, and fields. Often, the most innovative solutions emerge from unexpected connections. Be curious and open-minded in your search for new possibilities.
  • 3. Focus on creating value: When building a marketplace or any other business, prioritize creating value for both sides of the transaction. By providing a better experience and ensuring that both buyers and sellers benefit, you can foster growth and increase happiness.

In conclusion, starting from scratch is rarely the path to creative progress. Instead, the most innovative ideas arise from building upon existing knowledge and ideas. By embracing iteration, seeking out connections, and focusing on creating value, we can unlock new possibilities and drive meaningful innovation. So, the next time you're faced with a problem or seeking to create something new, remember: don't start from scratch.

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