Where good ideas come from
In the 1850s, a celebrity chef George Crum used to work at Hotel Moon Lake Lodge Resort in Saratoga Springs, NY.
One day in 1853, a cranky customer complained about the thickness of his french fries. And, added insult to injury by highlighting that they were soggy and bland. Ouch!
George’s celebrity ego didn’t take this well. To teach him a lesson for “how dare he…”, he cut the potatoes really thin, deep fried it so much that a fork could shatter them and sprinkled extra salt. He thought these fries would annoy the customer further. But, to his surprise, the cranky customer loved them.
I am sure you have guessed the culinary invention I’m talking about. Yes! Our favorite potato chips.
Fascinating, isn’t it? I hope this story breaks your confirmation bias mold on inventions. We credit good ideas on a lone genius stroke of brilliance. Though in reality, it hardly works like that.
But history tells us that all good ideas come from slow hunches, accidents, collaborating with other people and building on existing ideas.
French Fries + Ability to cut potatoes extremely thin + Bruised Ego = Potato Chips
Our favorite artery choking snack. EVER! A great example of billion-dollar innovation by accident and building on existing ideas.
I wish we could eat idea-stuffed-parathas every morning to become an idea ninja rather than waiting for slow hunches or building on other ideas. Oh…How I wish.
But, the genesis of good ideas is indeed based on marrying existing ideas. And, sometimes that conjugal happiness gives birth to a unicorn innovation.
Good ideas get conceived after taking a break after working on the problem hard and long enough. The moment we divorce our attention from the problem at hand, a great idea serendipitously comes to our conscious. And, more often than not, it comes in your dreams, talking a walk, dump or shower. Not necessarily in that order 😉
It isn’t a momentous flash of brilliance but letting the problem simmer in your brain long enough for a great solution to the surface. Well, it’s almost always true for me.
And, I couldn’t agree more with Steven Johnson’s research. Here is the synopsis of his research in a brilliant TED talk-
In his talk, Steven Johnson shares why slow hunches can beat fast ideas. What’s even more interesting is that you don’t even need to bring any unique skills to the table for idea hunching (O sorry, hunting). Here’s how you can have great ideas more often-
Accumulate your hunches
“Sometimes I draw all the day like a manic, sometimes I dodge a lot of time, or go for a walk to get ideas,” says Moritz Stetter, an illustrator who doesn’t believe that creativity needs discipline.
If taking a long walk stimulates your creativity, then move out in the open. Watch movies, travel, visit museums or art galleries. Observe. Treat your visual palette every day. Overwhelm your brain with varied ideas- even the bad ones.
More Ideas = Better Ideas. Here are some interesting habits that you can build to come up with great ideas.
Welcome serendipity in your life
Serendipity made Jonathan and Sara find love. And, it most certainly would help you discover great ideas.
Does every single minute of our lives need to be perfectly planned? If that was the case, there wouldn’t be any room for out-of-the-box thinking. One has to leave room for the God of serendipity to shine creative thinking in one’s life.
Even chance encounters and unstructured conversations lead to intermixing of ideas. No wonder coffee shops are the mecca of serendipity.
Most of the modern offices these days create open spaces for people to meet serendipitously for a chance to spur innovative thinking. Hackerspaces are built on this principle. They allow people with similar interests to meet, socialize and collaborate on ideas. So carve out that space for serendipity where innovative accidents can happen.
Make space for error
“Being right keeps you in place. Being wrong forces you to explore.” -Steven Johnson
There is absolutely no doubt that errors lead to innovation. History is full of examples. Alexander Fleming invented Penicillin because of an error. The invention of Polyethylene was because of a leak in pressure. Moral of the story? Don’t be so hard on yourself. You obviously can not induce errors intentionally, but when errors occur, don’t wipe them off immediately. Observe and improve.
On that note, there are no good or bad ideas. Only successful or failed ideas.
Hope you get a lot of breakthrough ideas and end up building the next unicorn. And don’t forget to hire me then. Puhleez!
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