Saturday, October 16, 2010

Coffee Houses: Where Ideas Have Sex

I’m always fascinated by sociological and historical studies of how people come up with great ideas.  So I really liked this Ted Talk by Steven Johnson because it combines the history of coffee houses with studies of scientists coming up with ideas.  He talks about how he has been studying environments to determine what kind of an environment leads to creativity.  

One concept that I’ve often heard is that it is important to get beyond the language you normally use to describe a concept because language can be constraining.   So Johnson asks us to stop thinking of an idea as a “flash” and instead think of it as a network.  First, an idea is a product of the network that is our brain.  But, second and maybe more importantly, ideas often come out of networks of individuals.  And if you want good ideas, you need to create environments that will allow a network to develop that will lead to good ideas.  People have half of an idea and in the right environment they will find the other half of the idea.   Sometimes this happens by chance but he thinks that some environments promote the possibility of those chances more than others and those environments are those with connected minds.   As he says, “Chance favors the connected mind.”