To be alive and living in Florence in the early 1500s would really have been something.  It was the epicenter of the Renaissance and the Medici family was about to unleash the innovation beast. Sponsoring and bringing together a wide range of artists, scientists, poets, thinkers, tinkerers and more--the House of Medici helped ignite the most creative period in all of recorded history.

Innovation expert Frans Johansson explains that what truly drives innovation is a diversity of perspectives. The big breakthroughs happen at the intersection of fields and cultures. MIT Media Lab Director Joi Ito labels it antidisciplinary--the spaces in between disciplines where something entirely fresh emerges.

So when someone knocks diversity in the workplace then, amongst many other things -they are saying they don't care about innovation. Good ideas are born from different ideas having intimate interaction with one another. And when they meet, the magic happens.  

A Prepared Mind

"Chance favors the prepared mind," so the famous adage from Louis Pasteur goes. And it's true--if you've prepped your mind for creativity, it's more likely you'll generate great ideas. Like the development of a child, there are various phases we go through when bringing ideas to life.

Preparation is the investigative phase that involves readying our cognitive muscles for new ideas to be revealed. Incubation occurs when you're at recess and not actually thinking about a specific idea - your unconscious mind is still at work in the background. Illumination happens when things coalesce and you have that epiphany. Lastly, comes Verification, where the ideas that once existed only in your head enter the real world. Here, they are either quashed, cherished, and more often than not form the foundation for further creative brilliance.  

This idea cycle posited by social psychologist Graham Wallas is a blueprint for the creative process. It does not necessarily occur in a linear fashion. It could be likened to a musical composition where success is achieved through critical thinking and experimentation. How we get good ideas does not fit squarely into a problem and solution equation. It's more like we float through, and in between, these various phases of conscious and unconscious creative work. We circle back again and again to preparing or incubating and illuminate some more. Before long we finally arrive at that stroke of insight.

No Stroke of Genius

Lightning bolts of inspiration in a glorious aha-moment is the stuff of fantasies. Author Steven Johnson explains that it's connected minds that yield the true innovations. Prolific creators actually cultivate their incubation and illumination as skills. They refine their rhythms and rituals so as to optimize for daydreaming, ingenuity, and colluding with others. As such, they prepare themselves for an insurgence of smaller aha-moments that culminate in the big idea.

Power of Abundance

Comedy writer George Myers is responsible for many of the laughs you've had while watching the Simpsons. He is a true giver and his default mode while writing for the Simpsons operated on this principle: great comedy happens through a team effort, not by an individual star. It's part and parcel of why he made the biggest contribution to the show yet received the least credit. He didn't care, he was too busy creating and focusing on generating laughs. When Myers found out that he was the one who coined the term 'meh', he was sincerely surprised.

Maybe our ideas actually live outside of our heads in the form of a Vulcan mind meld. Or perhaps they swim about in a gaseous mist of potential innovations, patiently waiting to be channeled into the real world. Here, inspiration is fuelled into action. And just like that, the world is never the same again.

Published on: Oct 29, 2017
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