Based in Sydney, Australia, Foundry is a blog by Rebecca Thao. Her posts explore modern architecture through photos and quotes by influential architects, engineers, and artists.

Ideas Don't Matter, But Influence Does

Ninety years ago, in 1922, an article was published by the Academy of Political Science in the Political Science Quarterly. It was written by William Ogburn and Dorothy Thomas with the title, "Are Inventions Inevitable? A Note on Social Evolution." The article introduced the idea that inventions throughout history are rarely brought about by a single person. They are often invented at multiple times by different, unrelated, people. For example, the Telephone which was invented by Gray and Bell. The article claims over 148 known inventions like this, and also recognizes there are many inventions of which we can't be completely sure of their origin. For example, the Pyramids built in both Egypt and Central America.

Look to the US patent office, which grants far less patents than it receives applications for. In fact, over the last sixty years the the office has granted right around fifty to sixty precent. We can reasonably assume much of this is due to the fact that applications are being sent in for ideas that have already been thought of.


In short, people are inventing the same things simultaneously.


The whole premise presents a very intriguing situation for creatives on two fronts. First, we can easily see an argument for placing less emphasis on the concept of "breakthrough" ideas. Most likely, someone else has already had the same idea you have. And if not, they will soon. This naturally leads us to the conclusion, which I am a strong proponent off, that execution is more important. A recent example of this might be Apple, who is not always first to market but often executes far better. They win with great engineering and design, not breakthrough ideas. Contrary to popular belief, Apple did not invent the concepts behind the PC, iPod, iPad, or iTunes. They simply executed ridiculously well. It's less about unique ideas, and more about what you can do with the ideas.

Secondly, we can see the importance of influence on creatives and innovators. The research and reading suggests that innovations arrive at similar times because of similar influences. Ideas arrive because of a need or pain point that has most likely been experienced but multiple people.


Culture and context drive unrelated people or companies to similar conclusions or concepts.


Thus, as creatives or innovators, it's important to realize the role that external influence plays on idea generation. More succinctly put, our creative output and idea generation is a direct result of our influence. It's vital to curate the information and experiences we take in. They will have significant effect on our output.


Execute well and curate your influences.

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