Where Good Ideas Come From

 Infant death is common in developing countries like Liberia and Ethiopia - one hundred out of a thousand. Many of these babies would have survived with access to incubators, but modern incubators are expensive and hard to maintain. Even when medical equipment is donated to these countries it breaks and parts aren't available for the repairs. In 2008 an organization, Design that Matters decided to build an incubator using equipment readily found in the local markets - automobile parts. They created an incubator, the NeoNurture, that ran using headlights, dashboard fans, door chimes and cigarette lighters. Repair technicians worked at the local automobile repair shop.

Steven Johnson, the author of Where Good Ideas Come From, The Natural History of Innovation, says we romanticize breakthrough innovations but in reality, good ideas are like the NeoNurture device. They are constrained by the parts and skills that surround them. They are formulated like a chemistry experiment - by combining the places, people and things we interact with, of mixing different concepts and connecting puzzle pieces. Some environments are naturally suited for the creation, diffusion and adoption of good ideas. Places where people can collaborate (coffee houses, companies, cities), platforms that allow the sharing of content (the Internet, scientific journals), habitats that foster biological innovation (coral reefs, jungles) have a track record for generating good ideas.

It's not about the eureka moment but about the long incubation - Johnson calls it the slow hunch. Good ideas linger in the back of people's minds until an experience, thought or connection completes the picture. The trick to discovering good ideas is giving it enough fuel to ignite.

Tahnee PerryComment