People love to tell stories. And when they do, they romanticize it i.e. they give it the Hollywood treatment by making it a bit more dramatic. That’s because at our core, we’re just a huge mass of warm, fuzzy feelings.
Take the story of Thomas Edison as a very popular example. The story goes Edison tried a thousand times to make a lightbulb and failed. What the story doesn’t tell you though is that Edison was working in a lab alongside a team of about 14 engineers, machinists and physicists (usually called muckers). These men were as mentally endowed as Thomas Edison. Somehow, that part of the story gets lost in the history of the light bulb.
Over the years, the success of Thomas Edison’s story would form the framework by which all tech stories and founders would be told. The lone creative genius, laboring away in a garage somewhere, burning the midnight oil, trying to change the world. It’s dramatic. And it’s the reason we idolise founders and inventors.
The problem with this narrative though is it paints an unrealistic image of founders as supermen and women. A lot of the time, I’ve come across young creators and entrepreneurs who want to create the next best thing but going at their project alone, mentally and sometimes physically secluded.
In all those narratives of our great tech founders and leaders such as Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg as well as Thomas Edison, if you’re to watch the behind-the-scenes reel, you’ll see highly sociable men and women who were able to share and strengthen their ideas through collaboration as well as having a solid team running the wheels in the background. Sometimes, they just happened to be at the right place at the right time.
The fact is, creating rarely happens in isolation. In fact, the best place for innovative, (and sometimes crazy) out of the box ideas is in a cross-pollinating environment where different perspectives, disciplines and approaches can mingle and approach problems. An idea room, if you will. It’s why brainstorming is still a tried and proven method used in ad agencies across the world.
Ideas rarely travel alone. What happens is usually, one idea piggybacking on another idea while leveraging another idea and so on. As was evident in the invention of the mouse as we know it today: Doug Engelbart started working on the mouse at SRI; Xerox “copied” the prototype and started working on a GUI/mouse combo; Steve Jobs saw the mouse device and “copied” it for the Macintosh. So the story goes. All through, the mouse was going through an evolution in its design.
The point is, when creating something that really matters, it’s rarely a lonely task. Which also opens up another can of worms about the problem of patents and how they get in the way of collaboration, more often than you’d imagine.
But that’s another story for another post.