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The Slow Migration of Ideas

Written by: Bill Sherman on Tuesday, 17 June 2008, 12:58 AM

Ideas that are commonplace in one field often take a long while to migrate to other fields–even when they are directly transferrable.

In the 1850’s the sugar refining industry figured out how to evaporate the water out of sugar through multiple-chamber distillation. Each successive chamber would be at a slightly lower pressure, and the water vapor would boil out. According to the Economist, this process reduced the energy needed for sugar refining by 80%.

If you’re distilling water out of sugar, you can use the same approach to remove salt out of seawater (and create a desalinization method). However, almost fifty years passed before this innovation crossed over from its initial industry of sugar refining and into desalinization.*

People can create value by taking the “commonplace” ideas within one field and applying them to a radically new use.

What do you know today that others could use . . . if only they knew about it? How can you create value by accelerating this transfer?

*Source: “Tapping the Oceans.” The Economist June 7-13, 2008.

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