Where do good ideas come from?

From the grand 1770s building to the smart minimalist modern interior, arriving for an event at the RSA always makes an impression. Even more so when entering the great room with the wonderful mural “The process of human knowledge and culture” by James Barry, depicting various images of music played in pagan times, the grandeur of ancient Greece, wars, collaboration, religion, worship and decadent royal courts. All in painstaking detail and still in amazing good condition. The room itself is a windowless rectangle with rows of seating sloping up from the stage. Modern technology blending sympathetically with elaborate 1770s details and serving as testament that the RSA is not one to be baffled by newfangled technology. As we’re told, the video feed, podcasts and possibly an illustrated version of the talk can soon be downloaded from their website, or through their iPhone app, if you’re that way inclined. ( See the RSA website).

The room is an ideal setting for the talk by bestselling author, Steven b. Johnson, on his new book: “Where do good ideas come from”, not the least because the RSA is a very keen supporter of creativity and innovation, and several of Mr. Johnson’s case studies for his book are past RSA fellows.

Mr. Johnson opens his talk with dispelling the myth about the eureka moment, the moment when suddenly a person is struck with a brilliant new idea. Even Darwin, who claims the idea of the Origin of Species came as an epiphany, was developing his theory, or hunch as Mr. Johnson calls it, for years before which is evident from Darwin’s own notebooks.

Introducing the notion of Cities as catalysts to new ideas, Mr. Johnson argues that cities enable people to bounce ideas off one another, share discoveries or build on the ideas of others. An example he gives is the London coffee houses, which among many other ideas gave birth to Lloyds of London. The mix, variety and sheer number of people in cities create exponentially more opportunities for ideas to collide and create new ideas.

A concern for today’s society, he warns, it a growing obsession for ring-fencing our ideas so we can reap financial benefits. This kind of behaviour comes at a cost. It makes it difficult for ideas to collide and create and build on ideas, limiting the potential benefit of an idea. While IP rights has its place, it should not be used too heavily.

Truly open environments, where people develop ideas because they are passionate about it, e.g. open source software or the internet, can generate amazing new ideas and create platforms on which commerce can flourish, giving opportunities that would not have been possible had people not been willing and able to build on the ideas of others.

The GPS system was an accidental innovation – an example of how one simple idea can collide with other ideas and create an innovation that today most of us use. Food for thought.

I bought the book, I’ll let you know what I make of it.

Author: Kristine Pitts


Who is Creative?

Childhood tools of creativity[tweetmeme]Yesterday I watched a motivational speech by Gregg Fraley on TEDx. He said that if you want to be creative you’ve got to stop comparing yourself to others. You may not be Einstein, or Picasso, why would you be? We are all creative in our own right, and in our own way. We need to “throw away the yard stick of comparison and have fun, obtain flow and allow yourself to express yourself”.

I encounter this in workshops all the time, and even in casual conversations when I mention that I facilitate creativity, people are quick to say “I’m not really creative.” or worse, total denial: “I’m not creative.” At least if they say “really”, there is the chance they are being modest. If you firmly believe you are not creative, you probably wont be.

Creativity is often thought of as the gift of the few. Whether they say Richard Branson, James Cameron, Lady Gaga, Salvador Dali or Albert Einstein, – when asked who is creative, people often list the people they see as “lone geniuses” or people who are very successful at what they do.  I, and many others, argue that you don’t need to be a genius to be creative. Everybody is creative. And the lone genius is a myth.

Children are creative. They dare to try new things, are not afraid of being wrong and have yet to form barriers of their own to why something will or will not work. Picasso is quoted as saying “all children are born artists. The problem is to remain an artist once we grow up”. I’d like to add that often the trick is to find what you’re good at and/or what you really enjoy. If you don’t like painting, you can learn the skill, but you will never be a master at it.

Creativity is a skill, it can be learned like other skills. Though I will admit some people seem to be more naturally adept at it, we can all learn to use it to our advantage. Creative ideas come from knowledge. We exploit knowledge available to us from diverse sources. Creative thinkers search for new ideas by manipulating available knowledge and experience. There are several influencing factors, like situations, cultures, processes and methods. Creativity is both a mental, and a social process.

Now if you think about the successful individuals I mentioned above, what do they all have in common? As Paul Sloane puts it: “All successful people have enormous self-belief. They know that they have something special to contribute and they are determined to make their mark.” We could all do with that kind of self-belief. Actually, a lack of self belief is at the root of the statement I often face in workshops of “I’m not creative”. I know the person saying it is capable of coming up with creative ideas, but he or she doesn’t believe that themselves yet. Maybe she doesn’t think her ideas would be worth saying out loud. Maybe he is afraid of saying something stupid. Well guess what, when it comes to creativity, the only stupid idea is the idea that your idea might be stupid. Because:

If you are not prepared to be wrong, you will never come up with anything original.” – Sir Ken Robinson.

Author: Kristine Pitts