Everything begins as an idea.
Literally every manmade object that you have ever encountered began as an idea in someone’s mind. Look around the room: with the possible exception of plants and rocks, every atom was placed as a result of an idea.
But while every thing begins with an idea, not every idea becomes a thing. In fact, most ideas just appear and vanish without ever leaving a trace of their existence. Therefore, any idea that actually makes it onto our planet is a successful idea.
I’m not saying successful ideas become successful products, or that successful ideas even become good products. There are tons of bad products, and even the best products eventually become garbage, but one thing is certain: the idea behind every one of those products at least got a chance.
We decide which ideas win.
People select ideas from the realm of thought and bring them into existence. Consider a battle between two ideas: the first idea is for a fantastic, world-changing product that never gets built; the second idea is for a bad product that does. The second idea won.
If you live in a city, most of the atoms in your life are placed by other people’s ideas. Looking around my city, I see many atoms that I don’t understand and would like to rearrange. I see a pothole and think that someone built a bad road. But maybe the road was fine until a utility company dug it up to fix a pipe. And maybe that pipe was fine when it was laid a century ago, and it lasted far longer than its creator anticipated. Even the pothole is what it should be.
Ideas compete for atoms.
The hydrogen in the plastic cup on my desk could be in my phone, or my lunch, or my hand. I don’t particularly like the cup on my desk, but there it is. I could buy a better cup, or even go into my glass studio and make myself one, but I probably won’t. The ideas behind that plastic cup won. The idea that I would drive to my studio and make a “better” cup is just going to stay an idea.
Often when I am annoyed by some bad product, I try to remember that somehow that product won the competition for atoms. I find that I am less annoyed when I seek to understand the decisions that led to that product’s existence. I shop in stores that sell packages of 50 ugly cups at a time, and at some point I must have thought having that many ugly cups was a good idea. So, I am certainly not blameless.
If all this sounds intimidating, there’s another way to look at it. By my definition, every object you have ever seen in your life has a successful idea behind it. We live in a sea of success. Everything around us is a winner in a massive competition for resources. Nobody understands all the rules of the competition, but we live among the results. You have never seen a failure in your life.