Right Person, Right Place

Inventing and implementing new ideas require different networks

1 min read

photo of Elvis Presley
Photo: Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images

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.

info graphic showing key similarity between two men

Elvis: Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images; Wedgwood: Hulton Archive/Getty
Click image to enlarge.

This article is for IEEE members only. Join IEEE to access our full archive.

Join the world’s largest professional organization devoted to engineering and applied sciences and get access to all of Spectrum’s articles, podcasts, and special reports. Learn more →

If you're already an IEEE member, please sign in to continue reading.

Membership includes:

  • Get unlimited access to IEEE Spectrum content
  • Follow your favorite topics to create a personalized feed of IEEE Spectrum content
  • Save Spectrum articles to read later
  • Network with other technology professionals
  • Establish a professional profile
  • Create a group to share and collaborate on projects
  • Discover IEEE events and activities
  • Join and participate in discussions