Ideas Aren’t Contagious. They’re Emptiness.

Applying a Buddhist concept to innovation

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BY Jon Westenberg - 10 Jan 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

They say great ideas are contagious. I don't think that's true. The essence of a great idea is non-communicable. It's just there, it just is, the greatness is on its own impossible to translate and transfer. A great idea doesn't replicate like a virus, it remains separated by whatever made it great to begin with.

It's the externalities that spread.

That's why every messaging app now has a bunch of Snapchat's features while continuing to miss the point of Snapchat.

That's why every Android OEM makes a smartphone that looks exactly like the iPhone while continuing to miss the point of the iPhone.

A great idea is closer to the Buddhist concept of Emptiness than it is to a viral contagion. In emptiness, one of the 3 doors of liberation, we recognise what we experience without its surrounding forms and without our preconceptions and suppositions. We see a great idea without the stickers and the camera effects and the bells and the whistles.

That's a point I often try to make with my clients. You can't grasp at and copy the externalities of anyone's idea and then call it innovation. You need to try and understand the essence and the emptiness of what makes that idea truly great.