Tech exec and bestselling author Nilofer Merchant helps businesses turn wild ideas into new realities. She shared her insights on idea creation and innovation with the Inspirefest audience.

Why do some people make a difference in the world and others don’t? It could be a matter of pedigree, or titles or other constructs that determine who has power. Yet that’s not the ideal process for innovation, explained Nilofer Merchant at Inspirefest 2017. If only one elite group of people is allowed to bring ideas to fruition, then all the talent, all the creativity and all the solutions that we need are not going to be available to us.

Merchant faced this question in a personal way when a person she met shook her hand and asked: “And who are you?”

“At that particular moment, my mind froze,” Merchant told the Inspirefest audience. “I ended up coming up with: ‘I’m nobody.’” Merchant astounded herself with this answer, which perpetuated a concept she had always railed against: the restrictive notion of who gets to have ideas.

Over 11 years of consulting, Merchant has been helping companies innovate, showing them that fresh, new, disruptive ideas can and should come from everywhere. She green-lights those people who may not have the right credentials or titles but who bring great ideas from left field.

Observing how the next generation of innovation was unfolding in the business marketplace, Merchant noticed how the mobile software marketplace shifted from major players pouring millions into selective application development, to the App Store, where fledgling developers can serve up a successful product with an investment of just a few hundred dollars. Companies have let go of the need to own and control content, and now co-create with the help of a multiplicity of individuals, who can each have their own ideas and bring them to market.

“This seemed to me so crucial and so I coined a term to capture this economic trend,” said Merchant. That term is ‘onlyness’, which she unpacks and develops further in her book, The Power of Onlyness: Make Your Wild Ideas Mighty Enough to Dent the World.

Words by Elaine Burke