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  • For the past five years,

  • I've been investigating this question

  • of where good ideas come from.

  • It's a kind of problem, I think,

  • all of us are intrinsically interested in.

  • We want to be more creative.

  • We want to come up with better ideas.

  • We want our organisations to be more innovative.

  • I've looked at this problem from an environmental perspective.

  • What are the spaces that have historically lead to unusual rates of creativity and innovation?

  • And what I've found, in all this systems, there are these recurring patterns, that you see

  • again and again,

  • that are crucial to creating environments that are unusually innovative.

  • One pattern, I call the "slow hunch".

  • That breakthrough ideas almost never come in a moment of great insight.

  • In a sudden stroke of inspiration.

  • Most important ideas take a long time to evolve

  • and they spend a long time dormant,

  • in the background.

  • It isn't until the ideas have two or three years,

  • sometimes ten or twenty years, to mature

  • that it suddenly becomes acessible to you,

  • and useful to you, in a certain way.

  • And this is, partially, because good ideas

  • come from the collision between smaller hunches,

  • so that they form something bigger than themselves.

  • So you see a lot, in the history of innovation,

  • cases of someone who has half of an idea.

  • There's a great story about the invention

  • of the World Wide Web by Tim Berners-Lee.

  • This is a project that Berners-Lee worked on for ten years.

  • But when he started, he didn't have a full vision of this new medium he was going to invent.

  • He started working on one project, as a side-project to help him organize his own data.

  • He scrapped that after a couple of years,

  • and he started working on another thing.

  • And only after about ten years to the full vision of the web come into being

  • That is, more often that not,

  • how ideas happen.

  • They need time to incubate.

  • And they spend a lot of time in this 'partial hunch' form.

  • The other thing that's important,

  • when you think about ideas this way,

  • is that when ideas take form in this 'hunch' state,

  • they need to collide with other hunches.

  • Often times, the thing that turns a hunch in a real breakthrough is another hunch

  • that's lurking in someboby else's mind.

  • And you have to figure out a way to create systems

  • that allow those hunches to come together and turn into something bigger

  • than the sum of their parts.

  • That's why, for instance, the Coffee House in the age of the Enlightenment

  • Or the Parisian Salons of Modernism, were such engines of creativity.

  • Because they created a space where ideas could mingle

  • and swap

  • and create new forms.

  • When you look at the problem of innovation from this perspective,

  • it sheds a lot of important light on a debate we've been having recently

  • about what the Internet is doing to our brains.

  • Are we getting overwhelmed with an always connected, multi-tasking lifestyle?

  • And is this gonna lead to less sophisticated thoughts

  • as we move away from the slower, deeper, contemplative

  • state of reading, for instance?

  • Obviously, I'm a big fan of reading!

  • But I think it's important to remember that

  • the great driver of scientific innovation -- and technological innovation-- has been the

  • historic increase of connectivity.

  • And our ability to reach out and exchange ideas with other people.

  • And to borrow other people's hunches

  • and combine them with our hunches

  • and turn them into something new.

  • That really has, I think, been --more than anything else-- the primary engine

  • of creativity and innovation over the last 600 or 700 years.

  • And so, yes, it's true we're more distracted.

  • But what has happened, that is really miraculous and marvelous, over the last fifteen years

  • is that we have so many ways to connect.

  • And so many new ways to reach out and find other people

  • who have that missing piece that will complete the idea we're working on.

  • Or to stumble serendipitously across some amazing

  • new piece of information that we can use to build

  • and improve our own ideas.

  • That's the real lesson.

  • of where good ideas come from:

  • That chance favours the connected mind!

For the past five years,

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WHERE GOOD IDEAS COME FROM by Steven Johnson

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    Halu Hsieh posted on 2014/05/25
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