The birth of an idea

The birth of an idea

On Wednesday, my friend Julien Smith launched Breather to much fanfare at LeWeb in London. Julien is a New York Times bestselling author, was the first Demo Day speaker of JOLT’s inaugural cohort and is now the CEO of what many people, including me, are predicting to be a very hot startup.

As we talked several times on the phone and over Skype, and had meetings here in Toronto, I sensed an urgency in Julien’s voice that is particular to those who are skilled at looking into the future. He was on to something and he knew it.

Screen shot from the Breather video

Every idea has a lifespan. Most ideas fail not in execution, but long before they even get there. We ascertain their parameters, factor in the intensity and scope of the work involved, play with opportunity costs and then usually set them out to sea, a message in a collective bottle of hopes unfulfilled.

But there is also a precise moment when an idea is given wings. In Julien’s case that meant bringing on Alex Payne (formerly of Twitter) as his chief technology officer and deciding to go big. Really big. Hugely, massively big.

Every day at MaRS we play in a seemingly infinite number of sandboxes of ideas. Some begin within the building, adding to the remarkable history and vision of a place that is both great and good. Others filter in from outside and attach to fragments of things past and future to create the same present urgency that Julien felt when he realized that his idea simply needed to be built.

One of the most sad dimensions of innovation is when we realize that we can’t do anything else for an idea—that it has outgrown our capacity to nurture what we now realize it had the potential to become. That is the true innovator’s dilemma: when to step aside and let a different wind power the craft.

But there is little as intoxicating as the birth of an idea—that moment when the future is expansive beyond our ability to comprehend it, that second when we look into the future and see a product of our own selves.