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The Importance of Being Awesome

Ideas Having Sex Live ON Stage

Where Does Innovation Come From
My mate Peter very kindly invited me to WSJ Idea Market event last night. 

Peter just wrote the rather excellent book "Little Bets".

- a book which examines innovation and creativity at a number of very innovative companies and looks to dismantle the myth of big ideas in favor of lots of little bets - 

and his fellow panelists were 3 of my favorite writers - in fact all three of them featured in my Ex Libris article a couple of post down.

@StevenBJohnson: author of seminal "Everything Bad is Good For You" and "Where Good Ideas Come From"

@MattWRidley: author of equally seminal "Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters", "The Red Queen" and, more recently, "The Rational Optimist".

@JonahLeher: author of "How We Decide"

All of which have studied creativity and innovation in different ways. 

In essence, all of them espouse a recombinant view of creativity - ideas are new combinations. 

This is why ideas evolve covergently across the globe - certain pre-conditions have to exist [such as intermediate technologies] for ideas to come about. 

This is why Ridley says that "Ideas have Sex" and that the key driver of innovation is open exchange - trading, commerce, intermingling.

Johnson points out that all "ideas are works of bricolage".

Lehrer pointed out that cities are drivers of innovation for the same reason - lots of diverse ideas and people are randomly intermingling - Jane Jacob's classic idea.  

He also made the point, recently referenced by Seth, that cities don't die but corporations do - the average life span of a Fortune100 company is 42 years.

Leher posits this is because as companies grow innovation per capita drops, whereas it doesn't in cities.

He went on to talk about the defining characteristics of success:

1. GRIT [persistence]

2. Picking the right goals to move persisently toward.

[See his Wired piece here on that]

Peter pointed to the process that Pixar calls "plussing" - getting everyone to share their ideas and progress daily and then letting anyone build on them, or suggest a different direction, using the key improv tenet of 'Yes, And" - which is a way to handle criticism of ideas that doesn't shut people down using negativity.

[Take the idea, agree, and then build]

Their final tips on innovation:

@StevenBJohnson: Expand and diversify your social network - the more, different, non-adjacent to your own knowledge, ideas you come into contact with, the more interesting your ideas can be.

@MattWRidley: Be Open to Exchange - trade ideas, swap stories, look for ways and places to exchange. 

@JonahLeher: Take long showers. 

This requires a little explanation.

All models of creativity incorporate this 'long shower' - a moment of relaxation where you are not actively thinking about the problem, indicated by increased alpha wave activity, where the EUREKA moment manifests.

In essence, in order to facilitate non-obvious connections within the 'adjacent possible' [within the viable solution space]

- that is to say, ideas - 

You put your mind against the problem hard for a while, fill it with everything that might be useful, and then take some time to relax, to NOT think about it, to allow ideas to recombine and thus geminate.

Long showers are often reported to be the locus of insight - also see long walks, or anything else you find relaxing that is not working on the problem. 

@PeterSims: Abandom the endless quest for the sasquatch of big ideas, and focus on placing lots of little bets.