“Don’t be surprised. There is nothing new under the sun. Only endless repackagings.” — John Piper
I used to work for an IP camera startup almost ten years ago. Sounds a bit boring, right? It was anything but.
I got to travel the world, learn new skills, and more importantly, bring ideas into reality by helping to improve the products. The flagship camera when I joined the new company was interesting, to say the least.
The owner, who literally thought he had traveled through time — talk about a red flag — was as intelligent as he was strange. He started the company after making millions with a previous venture and being spurned from their management team.
He ventured off to make his own company with one of the best possible motivations out there — vengeance!
- His expertise? Mechanical engineering with a specialization in optics.
- His hobbies? Being slightly insane and constantly tinkering with puzzles like Rubik’s cubes.
- The product? A remote-controlled security camera for the home with the look and feel of a Rubik’s cube.
This is what is meant by idea sex.
What is idea sex?
Science writer, inherited British Lord, and all-around strange chap Matt Ridley first came up with the concept in 2010. He wrote an interesting book on the subject called The Rational Optimist as well as hosting a multi-million view TED talk in the same year.
His meaning of idea sex was based on a society level where more humans equal more potential for ideas.
Author James Altucher took the concept a bit further into a realm I can understand more fully.
He took it to mean the combination of two seemingly unrelated ideas into something new and beautiful.
Dean Kamen, the inventor of the Segway, defined patents along the same line:
“A patent, or invention, is any assemblage of technologies or ideas that you can put together that nobody put together that way before. That’s how the patent office defines it. That’s an invention.” — Dean Kamen
If you stop to think about it, most great inventions throughout history have combined two or more different ideas into something brand new.
It’s even more profound when inventors combine their different fields of expertise into brand new creations for the world.
Johannes was a German goldsmith in the 15th century. He was a teacher for several years, sharing his knowledge of gold and metalworking with attentive students. He also had a passion for entrepreneurship and for drinking copious amounts of wine.
After 40 odd years of trying out his different fields of interests, he created possibly the greatest invention in history — by combining them all.
Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1450. The machine used aspects of metalworking and wine presses to create a modifiable printer.
He brought knowledge to the masses when it was formerly reserved for the most elite.
Dolls for boys
Stanley Weston was a soldier in the Korean War and later on had a lifelong passion for collecting military paraphernalia. After the war, he began a career in licensing and merchandising.
This led him into a niche of working mostly with children’s entertainers and teenage pop-culture icons in the 60s.
His lightbulb idea to combine these two passions? The creation of G.I. Joe’s, one of the most successful children’s toys in history.
Hasbro has sold over 375 million of the dolls — excuse me — action figures, throughout its lifespan.
Edwin Budding worked in a cloth mill for many years as a freelance engineer. On his commute to work, he often passed by rich estates with vast and beautiful properties.
One of the machines he regularly worked on used a blade to cut off the extra fabric not needed for the final product.
It occurred to him one day that a similar functionality could be used to cut the lawns on those vast estates. He had seen workers exhaustively use large scythes to trim them at an incredibly slow pace.
Skip forward a few years later and England had the world’s first lawnmower — to the future enjoyment of every dad in existence.
Can you have idea sex?
What are your passions in life? Your hobbies? Your profession?
Perhaps you think this concept doesn’t apply to you. But really, the idea of idea sex can apply to almost any field.
Are you a writer?
Indiana Jones was basically a combination of Sherlock Holmes and a Western. Star Wars was science fiction plus fantasy. Malcolm Gladwell combines narrative personal stories with non-fiction and history.
Perhaps you’re an accountant with a passion for video games. Make a game to teach accounting.
A nurse that loves to hike? Make a first aid kit suited for long-distance hiking.
Marketer and coffee addict? Find a new way to sell that caffeine high, like chewable baked coffee beans (hot tip: these are surprisingly delicious).
That company I used to work for with the Rubik’s cube IP cameras — sounds weird, right? But I managed to raise over $300,000 on Kickstarter for them back when the platform was relatively new. It was a hit in the often boring world of security cameras.
Idea sex can come from anywhere.
“You make different colors by combining those colors that already exist.” — Herbie Hancock
How can I make love to my ideas?
Idea sex is a beautiful concept when you think about it. And it really doesn’t take that long to practice it either.
If you’re really curious about coming up with new thoughts or things to create, the process is really quite simple:
- Write a list of what you care about, your hobbies, and your expertise
- Randomly choose two items from the list
- Brainstorm what ideas can come from their combination
- Rinse and repeat
Before long, you may get lucky and come up with the world’s next printing press.
But hey, I bet you had a fun time thinking creatively. And any day you can spend time being creative is a win in my books.
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