In the mid-1800s a French man by the name of Louis Ducos du Hauron had an idea for developing color photographs.
At the time it was incredibly difficult – if not entirely impossible – to develop colored photographs due to an insensitivity on the plates used to develop red and green colors in the photographs.
Hauron’s idea was simple enough: he added chemical stabilizers to the development process.
But Hauron didn’t officially patent or document the idea fully for about six years. During that time a Charles Cros, a French poet, stumbled on the exact same idea. In a surprising move, Hauron re-appeared and patented his original process a year after Cros came up with his, establishing himself as a leading pioneer in the color photography industry.
The simple idea revolutionized photography. It was undoubtedly one of the most impactful ideas in history, and yet two men were capable of having it.
Through-out history there have been countless ideas (both big and small) where multiple people were responsible for coming up with them.
Calculus was invented by both Isaac Newton and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. Oxygen by Carl Wilhelm Scheele, Joseph Priestley, and Antoine Lavoisier. The carbon microphone, the internet, sailing vessels, printing, and many, many other ideas and inventions all discovered simultaneously by independent people.
Yet, despite the almost ubiquitous nature of these ideas, each has been labeled as revolutionary and world-changing, undefinably valuable.
If it’s possible to have a world-changing, creative idea that so many other people can have, how are you to know whether or not the idea is valuable? Here’s three ways:
Look at how original the idea is.
Despite multiple people coming up with the concept of a telephone, Alexander Graham Bell was the only one who came up with the original idea of utilizing stretched animal skin on the receiver. Suffice to say, that idea helped make the larger concept more original.
When you look at your ideas, evaluate how original it is. Have you ever seen anything like it before? Would others call you “crazy” even though you know the idea is possible? That’s original, and you might be onto something with it. But there’s more to evaluate.
Ask how easy it would be for someone else to think up.
How much time have you put into the idea? We’re not looking at the time it took to write the idea down or daydream about it, but the experiences and existing knowledge you have that made it possible to conceptualize it.
Most ideas take years to come to reality due to a number of variables at play.
Steven Johnson explores some of these variables (like culture, state of environment, and more) in his great book: Where Good Ideas Come From.
Consider how helpful the idea is for you.
Not all big ideas are world-changing. Some of the most valuable creative ideas only need to help one person: you.
If your idea will undoubtedly help you and your life (without straining others, of course), there’s a decent level of value in that.