Simply Statistics A statistics blog by Rafa Irizarry, Roger Peng, and Jeff Leek

Innovation and overconfidence

I posted a while ago on how overconfidence may be a good thing. I just read this fascinating article by Neal Stephenson (via about innovation starvation. The article focuses a lot on how science fiction inspires people to work on big/hard/impossible problems in science. Its a great read for the nerds in the audience. But one quote stuck out for me:

Most people who work in corporations or academia have witnessed something like the following: A number of engineers are sitting together in a room, bouncing ideas off each other. Out of the discussion emerges a new concept that seems promising. Then some laptop-wielding person in the corner, having performed a quick Google search, announces that this “new” idea is, in fact, an old one—or at least vaguely similar—and has already been tried. Either it failed, or it succeeded. If it failed, then no manager who wants to keep his or her job will approve spending money trying to revive it. If it succeeded, then it’s patented and entry to the market is presumed to be unattainable, since the first people who thought of it will have “first-mover advantage” and will have created “barriers to entry.” The number of seemingly promising ideas that have been crushed in this way must number in the millions.

This has to be the single biggest killer of ideas for me. I come up with an idea, google it, find something that is close, and think well it has already been done so I will skip it. I wonder how many of those ideas would have actually turned into something interesting if I had just had a little more overconfidence and skipped the googling?