Invent by combining things in new ways

According to the book “Where good ideas come from”, innovation happens by combining things we can see and touch today. It is practically impossible to invent something any other way. The book calls the collection of all the things we could (in theory) “invent” right now based on everything we have the Adjacent possible.

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while." — Steve Jobs

In my personal experience this certainly holds up. Everything I have ever “invented” has been by connecting existing ideas and knowledge in new ways—react-boilerplate, styled-components, everything.

That is why it is so important to Get more parts on the table (also a concept from the book). The more parts I have on the table, the more chances I have of getting an interesting combination.

In Margaret Boden’s excellent paper “Creativity and unpredictability”, she talks about how combining things in new ways requires transforming your cognitive map of a certain space (“conceptual space”) rather than traversing it in a new way.

That also means the richer your cognitive map, i.e. the more parts you have on the table (Get more parts on the table), the better are your chances of having a “genuinely original idea”, rather than a novelty.