The Life of an Idea

I have two stories that I want to tell here that illustrate The life of an idea and how an idea might find its purpose. This is the case for things we may perceive as bad ideas. Because ideas have lives beyond our control.

So what is the life of an idea? How can it adapt, grow or change?

Show tune to anthem of a city

A friend of mine runs a friendly free competition each week. On a Monday, she sets a theme and we pick songs that fit. Three choices max, non-negotiable, no refunds. Last week, the theme we had to respond to was “songs from musicals that had a life outside the show they were written for”.

The winner was the Rodgers and Hammerstein song You’ll Never Walk Alone from Carousel. Now, a song from a hit musical is far from a bad idea, but it illustrates the point I’m attempting to make well.

You see, this song has gone from being a song from a musical to being, probably, the most loved football anthem in the world. But before that, it became an unlikely pop hit in the 1960s for the Merseyside group Gerry and the Pacemakers. Musical numbers are not often in the charts unless part of the cast recording.

I doubt Rodgers & Hammerstein had it in mind to write a pop hit. Carousel is from 1945, before the pop charts, which started in 1952 (pub quiz/trivia fans). I further doubt they intended to write a sporting anthem.

Finding new meaning in the song

Fast forward to 1989, when I attended the FA Cup Final.

This was just a few months after Hillsborough, the biggest football tragedy the UK has ever had. Added to the tragedy, the UK Press, Police and Government all blamed Liverpool fans for the tragedy. We now know, after 30 years that this was not true. So, the people of Liverpool felt the world was lining up to take shots at them, and it just happened that the two teams from Liverpool, Liverpool FC and Everton FC were the teams in the final.

The day started with high excitement and emotion. But a moment I will never forget is when Gerry Marsden from Gerry & The Pacemakers led the crowd in singing this anthem. Standing in that crowd and hearing them claim the song felt like a defiant city claiming their own truth.

The song was always intended to uplift the characters in the show, but it also managed to uplift a city when it was most needed. This anthem later spurred on a campaign to allow the truth about the Hillsborough disaster to come out.

This song shows how an idea has its own life.

A Failed Idea?

I am willing to wager that most people reading this will not have heard of Charles Barbier. He has a particularly strong claim to being the origin of a system that has helped millions of people over the years.

At one time Barbier was an Artillery Captain in the French Army. He was dismayed by the number of deaths on the battlefield at night and attempted to solve the problem. He realised that messages to the troops at night needed to be read. This made it necessary to use a light to read the message. The light made the soldier an easy target for enemy artillery.

Barbier created a system of 12 raised dots that would allow soldiers to read in the dark. It was not an instant success, soldiers found the system difficult to learn or remember. However, Barbier demonstrated his system at the Institution Royale des Jeunes Aveugles (IRJA), where a teenager in the audience understood that this could help him and others like him.

Enter the teenager with a different need

Louis Braille was blinded at the age of 3. Despite the disability of not being able to see Louis, remember he was only a teenager at this time, had a vision of how this system could be redesigned and simplified.

The system Braille created halved the number of dots from 12 to 6. As a result of its simplicity and application, the system has been adopted around the world.

Braille’s system has become an important enabler for many with vision disabilities. The USA has a population of around 85,000 people. Some of them have learned Braille, some haven’t. 90% of those that have learned Braille are employed. You can read about this in Dave Trott’s excellent book The Power of Ignorance. Comparing that figure to the 33% employment rate in those who haven’t learned Braille provides the illustration of the lasting legacy of the application of the idea.

The life of an idea can have long lasting effects.

Successful Ideas Find the Right Application

We can find further applications for ideas and can cause successful in ways the source had not imagined. We can even apply failed or failing ideas in other ways and find success. What is holding us back from finding new, simpler or better applications for all the ideas out there?

Is it a lack of curiosity? A lack of willingness to play and experiment? Is there a lack of diversity in the voices expressing needs and requirements? I would say it is all three and probably many more factors too.

But we can find playful ways of being curious, experimental, and most importantly hearing each other.

Get in touch with us today to discuss developing a playful, creative mindset in your teams.

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