Singer Elvis Presley and 18th-century potter Josiah Wedgwood are rarely mentioned in the same breath. But network science—the study of connectedness—is a world of strange bedfellows: Researchers mapping out a theory of how innovation happens have identified a key similarity between these men.
According to an analysis of network studies by John Steen of the University of Queensland, Australia, and Sam MacAulay of Imperial College London, major advances occur in two distinct phases. First, there’s the idea phase—the “Eureka!” moment. Second, there’s the implementation phase, when the revolutionary idea is packaged for the world at large. Each phase requires a different type of social network, and so the best people for the first phase are rarely well placed to pull off the second as well—except in rare cases, such as with Presley and Wedgwood.