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Talk to Your Colleagues
May 28, 2013 - 9:04pm

A central brainstorming tenet is that every idea – big, small, simple or extraordinary - should be considered.  As explored in a recent StratEDgy post, by putting all the ideas on the table, teams can make connections to arrive at the best one. Contrary to popular belief, most good ideas do not occur spontaneously in an individual’s mind.

Steven Johnson’s TED Talk, “Where Do Good Ideas Come From?” provides additional insight. Here’s a preview: he says that our vocabulary around idea creation includes words like, “Flash, Stroke, Epiphany, and Eureka” – suggesting that an idea “happens” in a moment. However, he argues that in reality, an “idea is a network” and “…a lot of important ideas have long incubation periods.”

 

 

In describing the environments that promote idea creation he says:

 “…people are notoriously unreliable when they self-report on where they have their own good ideas… the history of their best ideas.  

And a few years ago this wonderful researcher, Kevin Dunbar, decided to go around and basically do the ‘big brother’ approach to figuring out where good ideas come from. 

He went to a bunch of science labs around the world and videotaped everyone as they were doing every little bit of their jobs. So when they were sitting in front of the microscope, when they were talking to their colleagues at the water cooler and all these things and he recorded all these conversations and tried to figure out where the most important ideas…where they happened. And when we think about the classic image of the scientist in the lab we have this image where they are pouring over the microscope and they see something in the tissue sample and ‘Eureka!’ they’ve got the idea. 

What happened, actually, when Dunbar looked at the tape, is that almost all the important breakthrough ideas did not happen alone in the lab in front of the microscope, they happened at the conference table at the weekly lab meeting which is when everybody got together and shared their latest findings…oftentimes when people were sharing the mistakes, the errors, the noise in the signal they were discovering. 

And something about that environment, and I’ve started calling it the ‘liquid network’ where you have lots of different ideas that are together, different backgrounds, different interests, jostling with each other, bouncing off each other – that, in fact, is the environment that leads to innovation.”

He concludes his talk with this notion, “Chance favors the connected mind.”  

 

 

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