On seeing what cannot yet be seen

The idea comes before everything else, and few things have the power of a good idea. With a good idea, you can get people excited, do business, start a company – it can change us and our world. That’s the magic of the idea! It allows us to see what is not yet there. It’s a promise for the future. Without the ideas we had yesterday about the future, we would not be where we are today.

Ideas rarely come out of thin air. They are born in the interaction with reality and possibilities; when we try to solve problems, go beyond the limits of our thinking, create something better than what we have, do something new. Well-known American photorealist painter Chuck Close said, “All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself” and that “inspiration is for amateurs.” Ideas seldom appear out of the blue; they are the result of hard work.

Ideas find those who seek them; they require attention and come from observation – on the street, on a walk, using ingredients in the kitchen, in daily work. Often, the magic of the
idea starts with the simple question “Why?” Or, more often, “Why not?” One of the most important drivers is need. Crises force us to develop new ideas. If your back is to the wall, there is nowhere to go but forward.

Inspiration follows perspiration when we tinker with processes and raw materials together with customers, and test and experiment with our applications technology. You only know how good an idea really is when you present it to the customer. That takes courage, and often persuasiveness.

The magic of the idea

“The ideas are out there on the street,” as they say. At the Stern-Wywiol Gruppe, there have always been people who could see those ideas and make something out of them. The predecessor to today’s BergaFat fat powder, a worldwide success, started as a by-product of fatty acid production. It was originally simply disposed of until somebody had the idea of using it as a raw material, processing it for use as an energy-booster in animal feed.

The magic of the idea also lies in the fact that ideas are often hidden under everyday things. You have to be able to see what cannot yet be seen. Like the sculptor who said that he doesn’t chisel a statue out of the stone, but instead frees the sculpture from the stone around it. The idea, the artwork, it’s all there in his head when he looks at the block of stone. For example, while walking on the beach in Dubai, my father saw a customer’s flour sack washed up on the sand. Others might not have even noticed it, but it gave him an idea. He dug it up, cleaned it up, and hung it up as crazy ‘art’ in his office. That one sack turned into ten, then 100, and today 3,700 in the internationally-known FlourWorld Museum in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern here in the north of Germany, where they tell the story of flour.

The courage to pursue ideas
(Even the crazy ones)

The magic of the idea also lies in the fact that you never know where, and how far, an idea will take you. A flour sack washed up on the beach can give rise to a museum. Anything is possible, when you can think of anything. Lecithin is another example. This soya bean by-product was used as a wetting agent to coat pigments in inks and paints. From this ability to coat particles came the idea to use lecithin in entirely different applications, for example instant cocoa, where lecithin’s particle-coating ability improves miscibility. Today, the Stern-Wywiol Gruppe markets it around the world as a natural aid for all kinds of food products.

The world needs ideas like this. Always – because nothing is ever perfect, nothing is ever finished, because we change and must always improve. Ideas are fleeting magic. If you don’t give them space, they drift away and are lost. If you don’t act on them, they are of no value. If you aren’t courageous, you’ll never develop big ideas. The success of the Stern-Wywiol Gruppe rests on our preservation of the magic of the idea. Let’s keep the magic, because with good ideas, life and work are never boring, but always an adventure, with many new opportunities.

Torsten Wywiol