It’s easy to believe that having an idea doesn’t amount to much. Yet it doesn’t take more than a cursory glance at history – especially recent history – to find overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Ideas have tremendous value. They’re the beating hearts of every living thing, every artifact we find important. A transcendent idea has the power to create, to transform, and ultimately to change the world for good. Here are just a few entrepreneurial abstracts that led to something a whole lot more concrete.
Henry Ford didn’t invent the automobile, and he didn’t invent the assembly line. But he did develop a rigorous method of industrial production that truly changed the game. Before his eponymous company, cars were curiosities for the rich, and the great American middle class had yet to emerge. His big idea was to change all that by committing to a business model that emphasized low costs to the consumer and high wages for his workers. It was a win-win situation that contributed mightily to America’s great era of postwar prosperity. For the first time, workers earned enough money to buy the goods they manufactured, and standards of living rose across the globe.
Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus pioneered a concept that was entirely new to finance: bringing those with a checkered or absent credit history into the fold. The traditional thinking was that the very poor couldn’t be trusted with loans, savings accounts, or other financial tools available to the upper classes. Through his visionary model – including a microcredit program that boasts a 95% repayment rate – the very poor were included in modern banking processes for the first time, and a whole class of microentrepreneurs was born.
- Search engines
For the first decade or so of the internet’s existence, the direction forward wasn’t clear. It seemed intuitive that the availability of information across space had enormous potential, but how could that potential be harnessed? As it turned out, the librarians had the answer: organize all that information into a searchable index, and you had a portal through which the whole world would travel. Google’s founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, had the big idea of making the best portal out there – and the digital age would never be the same again.