The Aresan Clan is published four times a week (Tue, Wed, Fri, Sun). You can see what's been written so far collected here. All posts will be posted under the Aresan Clan label. For summaries of the events so far, visit here. See my previous serial Vampire Wares collected here.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Germinating good ideas

Been reading Steven Johnson's Where Good Ideas Come From. The basic premise of the book is that good ideas really involve putting together and integrating existing ideas. Thus, the way to promote good idea is to permit openness and connectivity, so that people can take other people's good ideas (or nascent ideas) and pull them together to create new good ideas.

He talks for one about how many good ideas come from talking with and sharing with other people. We have this perception that good ideas come from lone geniuses dreaming up brilliant pieces of insight in profound "Eureka!" moments while meditating alone. The truth is that most ideas come from people talking and collaborating. He notes that in research labs, most of the big breakthroughs actually come about through staff meetings and presentations when people share and critique their discoveries.

He also notes that sudden flashes of insight are not the norm. We may perceive ideas as coming to us of a sudden like a bolt of lightning, but the truth is that good ideas germinate slowly. What we perceive as Eureka moments are just one salient step along a long process of careful consideration. Since good ideas take a lot of time and germination, it's really useful to write down our thoughts. A good idea doesn't leap fully formed from your head, but needs to be germinated. And to germinate a good idea you need to remember it, so that you can return to it and re-return to it so you can add to it and refine it. This is the reason it was extremely common for great thinkers from the 17th century forward to take voluminous notes, filling notebooks with ideas, quotes, scrap of thought and experiences. These notebooks would facilitate the germination as these thinkers would return to their notebooks and rethink the information that seemed most worth notice.

As I'm working on my dissertation, which has inevitably taken me deep into Nietzsche's voluminous notebooks, such insights certainly ring true with my experience. Not only did he take voluminous notes, but in those notebooks are the initial insights that would ultimately lead to his more famous ideas. The Revaluation of All Values, which I am in particular studying, began as a crude idea when Nietzsche was just a young professor fresh out of college, but didn't really become the fully fledged idea that you read about in philosophy textbooks until well over ten years later.

What is also interesting about Johnson's insights is that the notebook, at least for some people, has been replaced by something arguably better: the blog. Though people do use blogs for different things, for many people it's like an open notebook, where you can link to stories and ideas you like, engage in debates and record your thoughts and experiences, just like people would do with their notebooks in the past. Except it's better than the notebook because it has the quality of openness and sharing that the standard closed notebook lacks. Thus, it can be used to germinate ideas for the author of the blog, as well as share those germinal ideas with other, potentially benefitting them.

1 comment:

  1. Germinate new idea - Think thru - write them - Talk in groups - share and REVISE.