Experience is priceless to innovate, so is imagination [the three laws of prediction]

More often these days, I encounter experienced professionals in tech who dismiss an idea as ridiculous or impossible based on what they know about available technology, physics, chemistry, or all of the above. In these situations, I look at myself as a young tech enthusiast and get more interested in what it would take for the idea to become reality.

My inability to take no for an answer could be a deep rooted problem from my years growing up. I remember not actually having persistent access to a PC until the year 2002, growing up in Nigeria, and in an environment that considered owning a personal computer a luxury, not necessarily a tool to learn and make a living with. I digress. Sometime in 2001, I had told my classmates that there was a website called ‘worldglobe.com’, where they could see the world globe and zoom into streets anywhere in the world to see how they actually looked. I was in SS1 (4th year in high school – probably called middle school in the United States), and my only exposure to the internet had been at cybercafes on rare occasions where I was able to save enough pocket money to earn the luxury.

My classmates who had internet access at home doubted me but committed to checking it out on our next holiday, given that I attended a boarding school and we lived on the school premises. Needless to say, they checked it out and I was found to be a liar. That lie would later earn me the nickname ‘Aba Bill Gates’, among others till I graduated. – ‘Aba’ in Nigeria meant fake. Fast forward to 2013, I’m zooming into the street I grew up on in Lagos, Nigeria from my PC in Milwaukee, WI. Would I call myself a liar? No. I had superb imagination. This experience has made it difficult for me to ever accept no for an answer when sharing my sometimes surreal tech ideas with friends and colleagues.

All that said, it is natural that more seasoned experts at today’s technology might find it difficult to imagine how it will advance tomorrow. They have invested decades of their lives mastering today’s technology, its that simple. They know the ins, outs, ups, downs, possibilities and risks involved in manipulating what is available today. But how do we push the envelope and truly think through things that have not been done, and in turn, create value that has never been created and fish in blue, untapped oceans? By imagining solutions as we would love to see them, even if unrealistic and then breaking boundaries to create new technology, or apply existing technology in different ways to achieve those things.

Here is why it is always a good idea to have some experienced thinkers, who have made all the possible mistakes there are to make, as well as inexperienced thinkers, who have a good understanding of the reality and how to think, in the same room brainstorming tomorrow’s innovations. The experienced thinkers maintain the very flexible box and ensure the inexperienced thinkers do not go too crazy, and the inexperienced thinkers poke the box and bring evidence to support the possibilities they are imagining.

In conclusion, Arthur Clarke’s Three Laws of Prediction-

  1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
  2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
  3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

When next an expert or experienced engineer tells you something is not possible, probe a little further. They might just need a little help reframing their understanding of your idea.

Goke.

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