As my toes began to thaw and the feeling came rushing back to my fingers, I looked across my dimly lit but warm ice fishing shanty and saw my new toy: an ice auger powered by my electric drill. Immediately, I began to wonder “where did the idea come from?” It is a simple idea that will no doubt “sell like hotcakes”. An inexpensive conversion kit turns that old manual auger into a powerful machine that will quickly drill a hole through several feet of ice.
What sparked my wandering mind was not the concept of a powered ice auger. I have seen and used plenty of those over the years. Most of them are heavy and contain a small gas engine that sits atop the auger. This new device is lightweight and unique in that it allows a person to upgrade from a hand auger to a power auger without spending a fortune.
Did some ice fisherman suddenly have an epiphany while struggling to drill a hole by hand? Was it a more exciting tale whereby the fisherman slipped on the ice, knocked himself unconscious, and awoke to a million dollar vision? Is that not how most great ideas appear? Didn’t an apple fall from a tree and Newton discovered gravity?
Although the human mind loves a great story, perhaps most new ideas are not a single epiphany. As I pondered further, I remembered a TED talk from Steven Johnson, the author of “Where Good Ideas Come From”. Steven’s research indicates that new ideas are often a reconfiguration of old concepts. In other words, ideas are a remix of the things around us. (I guess this means the old “mix tapes” of my youth were quite the expression of creativity.)
“Chance favors the connected mind.” – Steven Johnson
Steven suggests that because new ideas come from cobbling together other ideas, our spaces and environments can impact our chances for new discoveries. Examining early English coffeehouses, Steven is able connect the energized and chaotic spaces in which people of different disciplines cross-pollinate ideas as the key to one of the greatest periods of idea development: the Enlightenment. Further, Steven suggests that having space and time for individuals with different expertise and perspectives to network openly is an essential element in building an organization that will flourish with creativity and new ideas.
I have always been fascinated with how ideas develop and how we can create the best conditions for it. In fact, Steven’s research and other similar theories is one of the reasons we were so passionate about creating Think Space. It is important to break away from the monotony of your every day life and seek out a time to connect with new perspectives.
In sum, despite what I like to tell my wife, more time alone in my ice shanty probably won’t lead to the next great idea. However, if I invite some friends to the shanty, perhaps we can create something new. Let’s be honest, no one has solved all the problems faced when floating on an iceberg trying to outsmart a fish.
Check out Steven Johnson’s TED Talk at http://www.ted.com/talks/steven_johnson_where_good_ideas_come_from#t-1041692