Where good ideas come from?

For quite some time, I’ve been regularly following TED talks over the internet and have been frequently listening to the revealing ideas and experiences of the inspiring people from peoples all over the world, as it helped me to get over my stress and keep me motivated. Over the period, I got this really great opportunity to listen to a captivating speech on a topic – ‘Where good ideas come from’, by Steven Johnson, a popular American author, and a media therapist.

The question itself was fascinating. It’s a kind of question we all are intrinsically interested in, which I believe, – we all want to be more creative; come-up with better ideas; and want our organization to be more innovative. He described the very matter from an environmental perspective – what are the spaces or the ideas that have historically led to unusual rates of creativity and innovation? He highlighted the fact that in all these systems and the process of innovation that there are recurring patterns that we see it constantly being repeated and is an essential element in building an environment conducive/ setter to creativity?

According to Johnson, the whole process starts with the stage called the slow intuition – which he refers as the slow hunch, and that breakthrough ideas never come in an instant by a moment of a sudden stroke of inspiration. On the contrary, most important ideas take a long time to evolve, it goes on for a long period of latency, and only mature after 2 or 3 years and sometimes take even more time to get sure that it becomes successful ideas and useful in a certain way.  That usually happens because good ideas come through a collision of a convergence of smaller hunches so that they form something larger than themselves, which is the reason why you see throughout a history of innovation, cases of someone who has half of an idea. For instance, take an example of the invention of the World Wide Web by Tim Berners Lee – that when Lee started, he didn’t have a complete vision for that new medium he was going to invent, he started to working on as a side project to help him organize his own data, scrapped that, after a couple of years he started working on another thing, and it was only after 10 years that the full vision of the World Wide Web appeared.   And, according to him, this is how ideas happen because they need a long time to mature.

After that, when small ideas are formed, they need to converge with other ideas or the hunches. And, often the thing that turns a small idea into a good idea is another small idea latent in someone else’s mind and you have to find a way to create systems that allow these ideas to collide and work together transforming into something larger than the totality of these ideas. That was the reason why, for instance, Coffee House in England and another part of Europe was in the Age of Modern Enlightenment acted as engines of creativity because they contributed to creating an environment where ideas can be mixed and shared to create new things and ideas. And, when we look at the issue of creativity from this perspective, we highlight the debate over what the internet is doing with our brains so that we became clumsy because we are constantly connected to the network and perform multiple tasks at the same time. Will this lifestyle lead us to produce less complex ideas as we move away from the in-depth reading model? But, what happened over the past decade is really a miracle and something wonderful that we have so many new ways to connect and so many new to reach out people who have those missing piece to complete the idea that we were working on or accidentally bump into an amazing new set of information which we can use to build and improve our ideas.   

Therefore, it is important to remember that the great motivation for scientific and technological innovation is the historic increase in connectivity in our ability to reach and exchange ideas with other people from different part of the world and to borrow other people hunches and combine them with our hunches and turn them into something completely new. And, that really has been more than anything else, the primary engine of creativity and innovation over the last couple of centuries.  And that’s the real answer for the topic – Where the good ideas come from? They come from the minds connected with each other.


  1. TED Talks by Steven Johnson, Published on Sep 21, 2010, in Youtube.com
  2. Wikipedia, Tim Berners-Lee