Let’s all re-invent something.

A credit card company claims to have re-invented banking.  Amazon Web Service has a “Reinvent Conference.”  Marriott promises to re-imagine “the future of travel.”  Television sitcoms are advertised as “all new.”

Of course, these are all contrived slogans, hoping to snag our limited attention spans.  Banking is still banking; the future of travel will not hinge on better turn-down service.  Sitcoms will not be all new unless they change everything, including actor DNA.

Re-invent, re-imagine and re-create are ubiquitous today.  We can leave no stone un-re-invented.  Is this the age of re-invention or of useless oxymorons?  Like birth, an invention can only come into the world once.  After that, it is modified.  We are not reborn physically; so, how can something be re-invented?

Never mind, let’s re-invent the wheel.

Specious advertising both reflects and influences how we think about the world.  These companies believe we want to “break through barriers,” “knock down walls” and slice the pie at “the cutting edge.”  In turn, we dabble in re-inventing ourselves and look for walls and edges to cut through.  Everywhere we turn we imagine barriers to our happiness.  How could we ever turn off the lights in our house without Echo voice recognition?  Turning off the lights used to be simple: with the flick of a switch.  Now that we’ve smashed the barrier of light switches, we are free to…to…  Alexa, what should I do now?

Is it possible to re-invent, to restore an idea to its virgin state?  Only if you return to Eden before Adam and Eve bit into the apple.

Every idea—no matter how revolutionary—grows from previous knowledge, experience and thinking.  An idea may come crashing into the world like a waterfall, but it can always be traced back to its quiet upstream source.

Ideas are like cities built on the remains of older cities.  Modern Rome rests on ancient Rome.  In Boston, new skyscrapers are framed by roads that were originally laid out for cows and carriages.  The cows are gone, but the footprint of their path remains.  The thinking of our ancestors—let’s get the cows to the Commons to graze—becomes the framework of our “modern” thinking.

Your computer is based, in part, on a 19th century idea.  Early typewriters jammed because the typists were too fast.  So, the inventor took five years to reconfigure the keyboard to separate the most frequently used letters.  The new layout, QWERTY, was patented in 1873 to slow you down, which it still does on your computer keyboard, but out of custom, not necessity.

Ideas evolve: the first automobiles looked like horse-drawn carriages.  That’s what the inventors knew.  They could not leap conceptually from carriages to Ferraris or Fords, which only emerged through the evolution of the automobile.

Even your brain builds on ancient neurological precepts.  Like the cow paths of Boston, our brains still have the reptilian structures of our evolutionary predecessors.  (See my blog: Brain and the Computer on this website.)

So, the current buzzword is “reinvent,” which really means modify and monetize.  But, as you set about reinventing, remember that your imagination is based on your current knowledge and experiences.  Memory, and its manipulation, is the fuel of imagination.

The pursuit of innovation is steady work.  You may have a flash of insight, but only on issues that you have been actively addressing.

That’s why you should channel your imagination toward a goal and support your imagination with your learning, information and observation.

There is a company claiming to “re-invent learning.”  Perhaps, like “all new” sitcoms, they will change the human genome to re-invent learning.  Or, more likely, they intend to modify and monetize a teaching style.  Learning is how we survive; it’s in our neurons and DNA.

Maybe what we need to do is re-invent re-inventing.