Friday, July 22, 2011

How to come up with a good idea.

Writing a dissertation is a strange process - most of all due to the incredible amount of information consumed in the process. Piles of books and hundreds of journal articles. Some baffling, several almost unreadable, others compelling (and more than a few enviously original). How to make sense of it all? Connecting the dots can be an arduous process and at the moment the search for good ideas seems to involve a lot of writing and a good deal of time staring into space. Waiting for inspiration can feel daunting however the history of ideas reveals fascinating insights into the vastly different ways societies have approached the creative process.

Elizabeth Gilbert’s 2009 lecture on the history of creativity has got to be one of my favorite TED talks. She notes that the concept of a 'genius' today is completely different from in the past. In ancient Greece and Rome people did not believe creativity came from human beings, rather that inspiration originated from a divine spirit and was channeled by the artist (the Romans called this guiding spirit the 'genius'). The Renaissance changed everything. Rational humanism knocked the divine from centre stage and placed the individual at the centre of the universe. It followed that people began to believe creativity came from the individual. Do yourself a favour and check out the full talk below.

Gilbert advises we should be kinder to themselves and her advice echoes that well known mantra that good ideas come from 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.

‘Just do your job. Continue to show up for your piece of it, whatever that might be.’

Academic and author Steven Johnson is also fascinated by where good ideas come from but takes a different approach. He is obsessed with the patterns and environments linked to innovation. Those amazing ideas you have every now and again? Well, Johnson doesn’t believe they come out of thin air; rather they are created from dormant, partial ideas that slowly mature over time. This is why collaboration is so fantastic, it allows you to combine fragments of ideas with others and create something larger than the sum of two parts.

As for me? Well, I'm going back to the grindstone. Wish me luck.

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