Really, you think you have a truly unique idea?

Apr 13, 2009 | 8ninths | Tech News

Light bulbs
Light Bulbs, 2008, via


When you are an entrepreneur, one thing you do quite often is competitive research. Simply by telling your product to people in your daily lives, you are getting daily affirmation or dismissal of your idea, as well as awareness of similar ideas out there. You are constantly checking on how close your ideas is to theirs, and where the similarities end, where the difference emerges, and how important these perhaps minor differentiations will become.

And time and time again, I remember one of the pearls of wisdom that I’ve heard early on: Investors invest in people and execution, and not on the idea. I hated the saying in the beginning, believing my ideas are truly unique and, well, just plain better than others. But over time I’ve come to learn from experience that they are right, and now reminds myself periodically that it’s not the novelty of an idea that matters.

So the question that popped into my head is, just how unique can an idea be? So I did a bit of unscientific math on the back of a napkin: If you take the number of thoughts around the world on a day, and discount it by how boringly repetitive most of our thoughts are (food, sleep, sex, boredom), maybe we’ll get a bit of a ball park figure.

world population: 6,000,000,000
seconds in day: 86,400
avg thought duration in secs: 60
repetitive thoughts %: 99.999%
somewhat-unique thoughts/day: 86,400,000


So, 86 million somewhat-unique thoughts a day in the world. Now, these somewhat-unique thoughts do spread across many different branches of human wisdom and knowledge. So it’s not like your particular insight on a subject has to compete with 86M other competitors to be truly unique. But then, how many competitors within the category is there?

What do we know about measure the division of knowledge into classification? Well, the Dewey Decimal System, for one, measures information and knowledge in the library age. Now, it’s an extremely outdated system, and only has 1000 “sections” in its classification, no doubt terribly behind the times. Given how outdated it is, let’s construct a new system, that not just double, not raised it one order of magnitude, but exponentially expand the classification units. We’d SQUARE the 1000 units so that we have 1 million classification units in the new imaginary system we invented, Dewey^2 system.

So on average day , each one of the Dewey^2 classification may see up to 8.6 new entries. A single 24 hour day. Over the span of a month, 250 entries. Over a year year, over 3000 new thoughts will get added in each Dewey^2 category.

And so, what is the chance that your invention or insight is truly unique world? Let’s just say I, like wise investors, wouldn’t bet our fortune on it. Better to rely on hard work to make the best of the ideas you have.

Article End
  1. Apr 18, 2009 at 6:36 pm

    David Pauling says:

    The only truth is the presence or absence of the unit we call one… and from this… an/any new idea is simply a recognizeable portion of the synergy created when 2 ones’ collide.

    And that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

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