Where do great ideas come from? More importantly, where do they go?
Recently my wife Deb came up with a rather comical phrase to describe her occasional memory lapse, referring to it as her “photogeriactric memory.”
A quick Facebook post later and she had released this brilliant new phrase into the wild.
Naturally this got me thinking about where original ideas come from, and whether or not this was truly an original idea.
After a few Google searches, I found a total of 83 results for the term “photogeriactric” and an obscure 2007 reference to the phrase “photo-geriactric memory.” So it wasn’t totally original, but the question continued to plague me.
When an creative idea appears in our head, is this a form of manifest destiny, divine providence, a piece of intuition, or something more like a ripple in the force?
Original ideas can be tremendously valuable, so if we know where they come from, our inclination has always been to create more of them.
But we all have ideas. Each of us is an idea-generating machine. We are radiating ideas similar to the way the sun radiates light.
Yes, very few are truly original ideas, but some are. So then what?
We now have over 7 billion people radiating ideas, every second of every day, casting pieces of inspiration and brilliance in every possible direction. The question we should be focusing on is, where do they go?
Meet the Idea Expert
A couple years ago I had a chance to meet Steven Johnson, author of the book “Where Good Ideas Come From.” This is a book that focuses on the Eureka moments, the imagination sparks, the epiphanies where brilliant insights suddenly appear in our heads.
He concluded that people’s so called “moment of inspiration” usually took place over an extended period of time and rarely happened all at once. In his way of describing it, most discoveries start with a “slow hunch” that builds through a series of micro-epiphanies until the entire breakthrough puzzle has all its pieces in place.
During our short discussion, Steven mentioned that idea people often create their most fertile environments working with what he called “liquid networks,” much like the mastermind groups I’ve been running. With the right collections of minds focused on a topic, a well-executed discussion can lead to synergistic mind-bolts that can quickly be fashioned into completely functional ideas.
Personally, I find my most fertile moments to be ones where my body is stimulated through exercise, bicycle riding, or taking a shower while listening to the right music at the right volume. Sometimes a caffeine stimulant helps. With the right combination, I’m able to create what I call epiphanies-on-demand.
Over time I’ve started ranking epiphanies on a comparative scale and have found that it’s hard to understand the significance of an idea when it’s first occurring. It’s hard to uncover early what often becomes a fatal flaw later.
Most of these tend to be little ideas, micro-epiphanies. But in every cluster of micro-epiphanies is one with marquee-flashing-headline potential, then the question always become, “now what?”
Creating a Fertile Growing Environment for Epiphanies
Whenever a great idea forms in our head, we look for a place to put it. Is it something useful, that we can turn into a product, add to a document, tell to our friends, include in a presentation, or attach with magnets to the front of our refrigerator?
Ideas, much like parasites, need a host. If we don’t manage to gaff them before we slip into our next stream of consciousness, they will be forever lost. Without a host, these squirming little idea-fish will have a very limited shelf life.
If we manage to cluster enough of them together, they have a bit more staying power, but they still need to somehow reach critical mass before they become noteworthy.
In the past we had very few options. We could jot them down in a notebook, mention them to friends, or make a few drawings or sketches. But even then, most ideas died of isolation. We had very few “places” to put our flashes of brilliance.
Today our options have grown exponentially and good ideas can go from zero to Facebook entry in 0.9 seconds. They can be fashioned into tweets, infographics, photos, podcasts, PowerPoints, LinkedIn discussions, Quora forums, YouTube videos, submitted to blogs, or turned into interactive charticles.
We literally have thousands of placeholders for our momentary flashes of brilliance. Much like planting seeds into the freshness of damp soil, these memes have the organic potential to spring to life bursting into a colorful bouquet.
“Today, good ideas can go from zero to
Facebook entry in 0.9 seconds!”
Creating a Picture of the Bigger Picture
Every social network, discussion forum, or live webcast has become a cosmic breeding ground for Steven Johnson’s “liquid networks” and how ideas often have sex with other ideas.
So it’s analogous to thought-blocks giving birth to other thought-blocks. Ideas have a way of creating structures in our minds, and these structures become self-assembling and self-constructing in ways that we have never imagined possible.
Our future is being crafted with human genius in an organic sea where the best of the best have a way of rising to the top.
We have seriously shortened the distance between problems and solutions, pain and comfort, and products and ideas. Over the coming years these timeframes will shrink even further and become far more organic.
The better we become at filtering the signal to noise ration of human epiphanies and leveraging these storehouses of ideas, the quicker we reach what’s on the other side.
“It’s far less about where ideas come from and far more about
where they go as they enter into our emerging idea ecosystem!”
Our massive data centers have become a pulsing life form, a vibrant extension of human thinking, fueled by the relentless pipeline of ideas flowing to and from servers, much like synapse firings, to find an adjoining memory cell.
A recent report from Google indicated that roughly 20% of all searches are ones that have never been conducted before. While we will certainly not reach 20% originality in our ideas, it’s far more than zero.
As a result, a constant stream of original ideas are flowing into our data centers, and these ideas are assuming a level of prominence and influence with many poised to explode back into our physical world.
This level of human-computer synergy is still poorly understood. This form of symbiotic intelligence is different than we imagined, but at the same time, it’s exactly what we imagined.
Similar to an exoskeleton for our brain, it will be the super-participants, those with an innate affinity for tilling the idea gardens, who manage and harvest the fruits of today’s meme forests that will rise to the top.
As always, those with the most creative ideas are only part of the equation. It’s far less about where ideas come from and far more about where they go as they enter into our emerging idea ecosystem.