Where Good Ideas Come From

An architect, a plumber, and a web developer walk into a (coffee) bar..great-ideas-250

No – it is not the opening line of a joke – but instead the key to innovation according to Steven B. Johnson.

For the past decade, author and researcher Johnson has explored the shared patterns that facilitate the generation of new ideas. What emerges from his investigations are the following observations.

Creativity and innovation takes a mix of disciplines

Just like the exchanges that happened in the Parisian cafes and London coffee shops during the Age of Enlightenment, people from a variety of backgrounds and interests need to mingle. This provides not only diverse perspectives, but complementary skill sets which in turn gets folks out of their usual box and looking at problems from a different angle.

The free flowing collision of ideas through conversations and connections makes a difference

Spontaneous conversations help your hunches to meet someone else’s hunches. These coalesce and then become innovative ideas. The collisions tend to happen over a cup of coffee, around a lunch table, in the hallway, or after a stand up – and not necessarily in front of a computer monitor.

The open, public and free exchange of ideas and technologies speeds innovation

Open platforms like wikis, social media, and open source hubs allow for sharing across disciplines, use cases and organizations. Instead of protecting ideas, open-sourcing allows for fluid exchange and evolution – and building upon existing platforms.

Creativity needs time to percolate

The “eureka” moment seems to be largely an illusion – innovation is more the result of writing down hunches, going back with new found perspectives and reencountering earlier thoughts. And this takes time – which is best carved out from a “production/deadline” state of mind.

How this approach works best

The right kind of culture and environment matter: it is highly conducive to fueling innovation, progress and connected minds:

  • An open office architecture and desks with have wheels
  • Embracing open source wholeheartedly
  • A forum for crowdsourcing, incubating and sharing of ideas
  • Project teams that are cross functional and largely self-selecting
  • Build RFC’s / technical approach docs via wiki to facilitate asynchronous development and peer review
  • Plenty of white abound to facilitate IRL discussions
  • Conduct weekly “Tutorial Tuesdays” that are open across disciplines
  • An on-site cafeteria for lunch with a variety of seating areas that allow folks of different disciplines to mingle
  • Plenty of caffeinated beverages in stock and lounge areas where we can go to bounce hunches around…

In short, the right culture provides a great foundation to unleash the talent of individuals, teams, and an organization.

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