Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody else has thought.

Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody else has thought. – Albert Szent-Györgyi (also attributed to Jonathan Swift)

Many hundreds of years ago, this phenomonon was used to make microscopes, which allowed us to see more. But who thought of using a raindrop to see tiny things? Someone who saw it and thought differently.

Many hundreds of years ago, this phenomenon was used to make microscopes, which allowed us to see more. But who thought of using a raindrop to see tiny things? Someone who saw it and thought what no one else had thought, right?

What does that mean?
This is an interesting quote, as it is from a Nobel-laureate. The quote is about the process of discovery, and his very simple definition of the term.

Discovery starts out by seeing things. Not special things. Not unique things. Ordinary things. Plain old ordinary things. The same things everyone else has seen. Over and over. Day after day. Week after week. Year after year. Generation after generation.

How many people in the history of the planet saw an apple fall from a tree? Yet it wasn’t until Sir Isaac Newton saw it that the world had one of the greatest discoveries ever made by humankind.

Which brings us to the conclusion of the quote. Newton saw the same thing, but he thought what no one else had previously thought. When he thought about objects attracting each other, he was in uncharted territory, and a great discovery was made.

Why is thinking in a different manner important?  
We all have times when we think inside the box. We are tribal creatures, and learn from those around us. If everybody does a particular thing when they see something happen, we will tend to do the same. What this quote is about is thinking about what you just saw and coming up with a new idea.

Most of us have had one of those moments when we see something advertised on the TV or radio, and realized we had the same idea months or years ago. We saw something, and instead of thinking the same way everyone else did, we thought “There has to be a better way,” and we thought of one.

I know my limits, I’d make a lousy entrepreneur. So I’m happy that someone else was able to make something of the idea. I’m also glad that it validated my thoughts. Thinking differently leads to discoveries great and small, and that is a good thing..

The great thing about thinking is that we are all are able to do this. And by doing so, we are all able to help others, even if only in our circle of friends. But if enough of us start thinking differently about the things we see in the world, perhaps we can find better solutions, better ways of doing things.

Where can I apply this in my life?
I guess it would be easier to ask where you couldn’t. Think of any new product or any gadget or helpful thing you have seen in the last few years. Someone saw the same problem we’ve all seen, and thought something that no one else had thought.

What difficulties are there in your life? How could you make them better? You do know that a printing press for money or a tree on which it could grow isn’t a valid option, right? There are lots of things in our lives which could be improved, what ideas do you have?

They don’t all have to be Nobel Prize winning ideas. Most of them will be a bit silly, or create another challenge in the process. But the point is to practice. Just like free throws in basketball, or playing a musical instrument, it takes repetition to get good at it.

Once we start thinking of ways to improve things, instead of just doing it the way we have always done it, we can start to make some progress. Even if it’s just in our own minds, we can start learning to think a little differently, and start to find solutions.

And that is the biggest part of discovery, looking at the same old challenges and seeing a better way to solve the problem. At one point in time pretty much everything you have around you either didn’t exist, or was radically different.

Sixty years ago, the best computer on the planet used as much electricity as a large town, took up most of an office building, and was less capable than today’s smart phones. And if you think your smart phone is heavy, you have probably never seen Motorola’s original “brick” phone.

Someone came up with those ideas. Sometimes in large leaps, other times in small steps. Some of the ideas blossom into an industry. A computer language turned into an operating system, and now computers are ‘Microsoft compatible’ (or not), as ‘IBM compatible’ is no longer in our vocabulary.

Closer to home, what do you do regularly that might be improved, if you thought about it in a slightly different manner? What could be different? What could be better? Is there anything that can be combined, delayed, done sooner, or otherwise changed?

“Thinking outside the box” has become such a buzzword that there are even TV commercials mocking the phrase. But the basic point is simple. If we keep thinking what we always think, we will continue to do what we have always done. And that will get us what we have always got.

That’s not progress, that’s stagnation. We can do better than that.

From: Twitter, @GreatestQuotes
confirmed at : and at
Photo by Mary Trebilco

Info on water drop lenses and microscopes (from photo, above) can be found here.


About philosiblog

I am a thinker, who is spending some time examining those short twitter quotes in greater detail on my blog.
This entry was posted in clarity, creativity, discovery, observation, thinking, vision and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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