Monday, May 9, 2016

Inspiration Favors the Connected Mind

Charles Darwin wrote in his autobiography that in October of 1838 he was at home reading when the formula for Natural Selection came to him. He doesn’t mention if he jumped out of the tub and ran through the town yelling "Eureka" which means, "I forgot my robe, and it's really cold."

Innovation took a break last year. A recent survey of businesses showed that in 2009, being innovative took a back seat to other priorities, such as staying afloat, keeping the lights on, and skipping lunch.

But in 2010, Innovation is back on the table. So get cracking, stop wasting your time reading blogs and send your flashes of inspiration directly to me. Of course, this raises one of the most perplexing questions of all time - is it possible to schedule invention, or are we at the mercy of happenstance, luck, and blind inspiration?

Darwin’s autobiography pinpoints a specific moment in time when the history of history was changed forever.

Except - that’s not how it actually happened. Dr. Howard Gruber, a pioneer in the psychological study of creativity examined Darwin’s diaries in considerable detail and discovered that Darwin had actually pieced all of the elements of Natural Selection together in the months before his Eureka moment. It’s possible that Chuck didn’t know he knew it, but his "sudden" inspiration actually occurred over time.

"Where good ideas come from", Steven Johnson’s book, lays out the notion that innovation is the result of collaboration, sharing, and connecting of people and ideas - not of isolation, inspiration, or supreme intellect. He makes two important comments, backed by a lot of research. First, apparent flashes of insight are usually the result of slow hunches that build over time, bit by bit. Secondly, it is the combinations of hunches, adding yours to mine, that result in breakthrough thinking.

In fact Johnson makes reference to the work of Dr. Kevin Dunbar of the University of Toronto, who studied people in their workplace to understand how and where breakthrough ideas are made. After countless hours of big brother monitoring and filming of workers performing their duties, Dunbar discovered that most ideas originated around conference tables, when people were sharing their thoughts, often times discussing apparent mistakes, and the "noise within the signal."

Conference tables? Seriously? Yes, I too found that to be incredible; but it makes sense when you consider that each of us sees the world from slightly different perspectives. If you put the perspectives together, it is only natural that a better, clearer picture will emerge.  What's the first thing we do when an unexpected software crises emerges (after the pagers and the swearing...)?  We assemble everybody who might know anything and start talking symptoms.

We are all tasked with being agents of change, with finding new innovative ways of doing business, of solving problems, and being creative. We are all asked to continuously improve our businesses. The best way to do that is to share, communicate, and to interact. So... schedule a conference room and start talking.

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