Where Do Good Ideas Come From?

In class this week, we watched Where Do Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson. I got lucky; I had just watched this same video the day before in my communications class as an example of how to give a good speech.

Obviously, this speech is about where good ideas come from. Steve Johnson is trying to figure out what is the space of creativity? People congregate in coffee houses and libraries to study and go over their ideas. But does your location have anything to do with your amount of creativity? What makes coffee houses such a popular location to collaborate and brainstorm?

To me, it’s interesting how such a small thing as the coffeehouse helped set off the Enlightenment. It makes me wonder what the next generation of coffee shops will look like. What will be the thing that sets off the next generation of creativity?

Great ideas can come about when a group of people gather to discuss solving a problem they are all passionate about. They may have had a lot of time pondering their question alone, but their ideas come out and get challenged and debated when they tell their peers. This relates to the group collaboration we talked about earlier. You may have a good idea, but it may take combining that idea with somebody else’s good idea to have something great.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” -Margaret Mead

People often have that “Aha!” or “Eureka!” moment. I’ve had them, so I’m not going to say that history shows something to the contrary. Even in the case of Darwin, he eureka moment still happened. In the back of his mind, he already had the whole puzzle pieced together. But he didn’t realize that he had the answer that he was looking for. The eureka moment for him was the moment when it all clicked. A lot of the time, you have a good idea in the back of your mind just waiting to be discovered. The eureka moment isn’t any less significant just because it took you a while to get to that point.

I had to go back and watch this talk more than once, because to me it was kind of hard to follow. He brings you from the “liquid network” of England’s coffeehouses to the ideas of Charles Darwin, to Sputnik, to GPS and back to coffeehouses. Steve Johnson’s ideas are good ones, they were just hard to piece together for me.

His idea about how people with different backgrounds and different ideas help each other is very true. When people with different opinions and backgrounds share ideas, something great can happen. If you’re a scientist studying a specific thing and you get stuck, sharing your findings with a scientist from a different field can help you. They can look at it from a different perspective using their area of expertise.

Ideas are the fruit of the mind. We have to be aware of our environment and the people in it in order to productively share our ideas.

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