The Three Biggest Ideas in History – and The Biggest of All

By Shlomo  Maital   

 Big Idea

  I’m reading a big thick book,  Peter Watson’s book “Ideas: a history of thought and invention, from fire to Freud”, [Harper Perennial, 2006], over 800 pages, and 75 pages of close endnotes.

Let me try to summarize it for you,  though I recommend that you try to plough through it.

   Watson says that the three most influential ideas in history (only a very brave person would assert he could identify the three BIGGIES!) are:

  • The soul
  • The idea of Europe
  • The experiment.


  Now, Watson does not say this, but two of this big ideas have really not worked out too well.  The soul?  Well, this idea is a foundation of religion.  And religion has caused death, wars, suffering, persecution, and continues to do so (see ISIS, Hamas, and other fundamentalists), though for many (including me) religion does bring comfort and service to others. 

    Europe?  Well, European unity  has ended wars within Europe, especially between France and Germany.  But by placing monetary union ahead of political union, Europe put the cart before the horse, and horses are very poor at pushing carts, though good at pulling them.   There is a good chance England may opt out of Europe, and that will be a severe blow.

    But the experiment.  Now THERE is an idea.  How do you learn about the world? Well, you can pretend you know.  But as Goethe said,   thinking is better than knowing, but looking is best of all.   So, you learn about the world by trying experiments.  If you’r a scientist, you have a lab and you can do controlled experiments. If you’re a social scientist, you let the world be your lab and watch closely for natural experiments – places where unusual things happen – and learn from them.  If you’re an entrepreneur, by definition you are an experimentalist.  Your product is by definition an experiment.  The only way you will learn if it truly creates value, is by getting it out into the marketplace, and have people use it.

      So, Peter Watson,  you got one right out of three.  We all should become experimenters.  This is a mindset.  Don’t be afraid to try things.  Don’t be afraid to fail (most experiments fail).  See my previous blog.   And become an experimenter in your daily life as well. Try new foods, music, books, magazines, TV programs..welcome experiments, even though they may be uncomfortable.  (The old familiar stuff is comfortable, the new unfamiliar stuff is Uncomfortable).   Soon, you will become more comfortable with experiments.  And the mindset will spread to your work as entrepreneur and innovator.