The Most Powerful Idea in the World

Eric Swanson

20 August 2010

steam_engine.jpg
This week I started reading (well, listening to it on my iPhone) a book called The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention . In the introduction to the book, the author, William Rosen cites A. P. Usher from his 1929 book The History of Mechanical Inventions. In this work Usher defines four steps of every invention:
 
1. Awareness of an unfulfilled need;
 
2. Recognition of something contradictory or absent in existing attempts to meet that need, which Usher called “an incomplete pattern”;
 
3. An all-at-once insight about the pattern; and
 
4. A process of “critical revision” during which the insight is tested, refined and perfected.
 
Hmmmmmm. Pretty good stuff. Here was my immediate response to his four steps.
 
1. Awareness of an unfulfilled need;   This past year and a half…wherever I have gone I have asked those I am addressing, “Who wants to change the world?…Please raise your hand.” And every hand goes up.

2. Recognition of something contradictory or absent in existing attempts to meet that need, which Usher called “an incomplete pattern”; Building upon what I have asked in my first question, I usually add this caveat: “Everyone wants to change the world but isn't it sad how few people are regularly given the opportunity to do so?” Only about 6 percent of the population are self-initiators so though everyone wants to change the world, there is too much inertia to overcome to create movement and change. Very few people are really helping others change the world.

3. An all-at-once insight about the pattern;   What if the church…yes your church became that place where everyone was regularly given opportunities to engage the world in such a way so that the world would be different because of him or her? What if people could invite people to church with invitation, “Come help us change the world” or better yet “Come to our church…we'll help you change the world.” What if your one “success criteria” or measurement was this: At the end of the year, everyone has a story of how he or she changed the world—in ways great or small.
 

eric_swanson.jpgEric Swanson

Changing the world might be leading someone to faith in Christ or teaching a third-grader how to read. The point is everyone would have a story. Now what if you took those thousand stories and posted them on your Website—maybe a minute each. What if you regularly showed those stories when you gathered? The new norm would be “everybody has a story to tell of how they changed the world.”

4. A process of “critical revision” during which the insight is tested, refined and perfected. Of course you would refine and test…maybe not perfect—life's too messy for that but it would be a great process to be engaged in.

Rosen, William. The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention. New York, Random House (2010) P. xx