Where Good Ideas Come From

. July 29, 2011
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Mouse Antibody
In grad school, I saw how effective it is to combine ideas from different places. One example is the problem of making peptides and DNA, both of which look like long chains. Is there a way to make a chain a thousand molecules long? The answer to this question sheds light on long-term missions.


Scientists figured out how to use the technology made for purifying (separating) molecules and instead use it to put molecules together. They took the plastic beads that impurities would normally stick to and used them backwards. They got the molecule chains they wanted to build to stick to the beads and made sure that impurities would rinse away from the beads easily. Repeating a simple build-and-rinse process a thousand times created a chain a thousand molecules long.

Ideas from two different fields, building molecules and separating molecules, combined, and solid-phase synthetic chemistry was born.


The familiar idea of tentmaking also comes from putting two different ideas together, allowing Christians to go overseas without having to raise financial support.

Tentmaking combines vocation + missions.

One of the potential problems with tentmaking is that you may make a high income and support a family in the U.S., but this ability could disappear once you leave the country. Our church sent a group to visit refugees earlier this week. We saw highly skilled people from other countries who had moved here for political reasons. They work in jobs they're under-qualified for because they don't speak English.

Self-Funding Missions

If you make a high income in the U.S. but can't do it outside the country, you can still self-fund a long-term mission trip. Like tentmaking, self-funding is a fusion of ideas from three seemingly unrelated places:

Self-funding combines personal finance + investing + missions.

The key is to earn more than you spend, invest the money wisely, and give your money time to grow. In this example scenario, a married couple could potentially spend the rest of their lives overseas after saving and investing for only seven years.

Why Doesn't Everyone Do It?

Sometimes I wonder if I'm saying something obvious. None of the components (personal finance, investing, missions) is new. However, the ideas in each field get discussed in small, closed circles without the chance for cross-fertilization. We're finally bringing different ideas together to make something new happen.

One man's trash is another man's treasure. By taking obvious, well-explored ideas from one field and applying them to a new field, we create wealth without working harder. We are doing with ideas what free trade and the division of labor do for the economy.

Check out Steven Johnson's perspective on where good ideas come from. The second video is from his TED talk and explains how something we use every day was invented by accident.



Norman said...

Have you seen the TED talk by Matt Ridley?