Its all been done before
Most people who work in corporations or academia have witnessed something like the following: A number of engineers are sitting together in a room, bouncing ideas off each other. Out of the discussion emerges a new concept that seems promising. Then some laptop-wielding person in the corner, having performed a quick Google search, announces that this “new” idea is, in fact, an old one—or at least vaguely similar—and has already been tried. Either it failed, or it succeeded. If it failed, then no manager who wants to keep his or her job will approve spending money trying to revive it. If it succeeded, then it’s patented and entry to the market is presumed to be unattainable, since the first people who thought of it will have “first-mover advantage” and will have created “barriers to entry.” The number of seemingly promising ideas that have been crushed in this way must number in the millions.
What if that person in the corner hadn’t been able to do a Google search? It might have required weeks of library research to uncover evidence that the idea wasn’t entirely new—and after a long and toilsome slog through many books, tracking down many references, some relevant, some not. When the precedent was finally unearthed, it might not have seemed like such a direct precedent after all. There might be reasons why it would be worth taking a second crack at the idea, perhaps hybridizing it with innovations from other fields.
There are tons of good thoughts to be had about many issues while reading this essay, but what really resonated me with is the quote above. I’m a voracious consumer of on-line information, and any time I have an idea I immediately google/wiki it and dive into all the links. While I love all the information and influence I get on-line I’m also constantly fighting the impulse to set aside a design/idea/concept because someone has “done it” already. I often have to tell myself out loud “It’s you execution that’s valuable/original/worthy not the design/idea/concept its self.”