W. Brian Arthur told the a16z podcast that you always need to look for the principles AND the components.
Principles are the guiding insights, but components are the technologies, or whatever thing organizes those principles into a functional product.
The way pixels work (principles) allows for a TV to give you that HD picture (components). The way packets of information travel through space (principles) allow for your smartphone to text that link to mine (component).
If we take his logic, then we can accept that technologies don’t come out of nowhere. Tech innovation doesn’t just magically appear, even if sometimes it feels like it does.
Arthur suggest that there is a proverbial box of LEGOs in the room that people add new pieces to, but once in a while somebody walks up to the box and builds something new and amazing. The key realization is that they couldn’t have built the thing without the blocks.
His work reminds of the quote attributed to Einstein, “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.”
New things are often just reorganized combinations of old things.
They still require some amount of creativity, but whether we are trying to come up with something new (Elon Musk and his rockets) or something novel (Sara Blakey and Spanx), we should realize the LEGOs are already out there.
Somebody just has to do something with them.