Sunday, June 06, 2004

Structural holes and productive theft

A couple weeks ago there was an interesting article in the New York Times which I'd meant to link to, but it has expired and is now pay only. Fortunately, it has been posted elsewhere: Where to get a Good Idea? Steal it Outside your Group

Got a good idea? Now think for a moment where you got it. A sudden spark of inspiration? A memory? A dream? Most likely, says Ronald S. Burt, a sociologist at the University of Chicago, it came from someone else who hadn't realized how to use it. "The usual image of creativity is that it's some sort of genetic gift, some heroic act," Mr. Burt said. "But creativity is an import-export game. It's not a creation game."

Mr. Burt has spent most of his career studying how creative, competitive people relate to the rest of the world, and how ideas move from place to place. Often the value of a good idea, he has found, is not in its origin but in its delivery. His observation will undoubtedly resonate with overlooked novelists, garage inventors and forgotten geniuses who pride themselves on their new ideas but aren't successful in getting them noticed. "Tracing the origin of an idea is an interesting academic exercise, but it's largely irrelevant," Mr. Burt said. "The trick is, can you get an idea which is mundane and well known in one place to another place where people would get value out of it."