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“There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible.” —Mark Twain, Mark Twain’s Own Autobiography: The Chapters from the North American Review

I recently met an expert on innovation. He said that his studies have shown that on average, anything we perceive as new has already been around for 29 years. Interesting thought. He gave the example of Penicillin. Penicillin is one of the first medicines that was effective against bacteria. It was discovered in 1928 but not put into use until 1942, fourteen years later.1

A few weeks ago, I met with an inventor that has come up with a way to measure a person’s focus through brain waves. The way it works is that you wear a set of glasses that has sensors built into them and the glasses read your brain activity to let you know when you are losing focus. This device can help with training the brain how to maintain focus. This inventor is using the same device to help people with ADD/ADHD to focus better. Turns out the technology he is using was developed by NASA in the 1960’s to monitor the mental stress of astronauts.2

Two great examples of things that were thought of before they were used for the mass market. So, is there a new idea in either of these? Penicillin was discovered and no one paid attention to it; then someone read a 9–10-year-old medical paper and began experimenting. Bio feedback was developed by NASA in the 1960’s and today that technology is being re-purposed for help in the ADD/ADHD field.

Here is Mark Twain’s entire quote: “There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.”

You can take an old idea, view it through a different lens, and improve upon it, as Twain suggests. Or you can come up with something entirely new and possibly see its implication in the future. In either case, it requires you to think outside the box and be creative.

Have a good weekend. Go create.


1American Chemical Society International Historic Chemical Landmarks. Discovery and Development of Penicillin. (accessed February 3, 2017).
2NASA Spinoff Technology Transfer Program. (accessed February 3, 2017).

About Friday Food for Thought (FFfT)

I frequently attend conferences and retreats on entrepreneurship and leadership and while I am away, the J2 team picks up the slack, allowing me to learn to be better at what I do. I wanted to share what I was learning with my team, so I created the weekly FFfT emails in November of 2015 and have been writing them ever since.

Before long, the J2 staff began sharing the FFfT emails with their friends and family and now other leaders have asked to be included, which led to the creation of this newsletter. I hope you enjoy!