Where Will Your Best Ideas Come From?

‘Where Do Good Ideas Come From?’ Johnson and Miami.

Last week, Stephen J. Dubner, an online columnist for The New York Times, solicited questions for Steven Johnson, author of “Where Do Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation.” Two of the questions/answers caught my attention.

The first was probably a better testimonial for SIPA conferences—or conferences in general—than anything that I can write. The questioner wrote this: “I just came from a highly collaborative meeting where the three of us seemed to be experiencing peak mental performance simultaneously….quite a miracle. We may not have solved all the problems of the world, but we made large headway into solving a persistent one we’ve faced at work. The 1930s book “Think and Grow Rich” noted almost an alignment of minds allowing a boost of effective thinking/mental openness for an idea to be better recognized. I’m wondering if your book tackles this feeling that collaborative discussion gives exponential boosts to successful ideation similar to what I felt today.”

Johnson, author of the national bestseller, “The Ghost Map: The Story Of London’s Most Terrifying Outbreak – and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World,” answered: “In the book [“Where Do Good Ideas Come From”], I talk about a brilliant study by a scholar named Kevin Dunbar, who went around videotaping cutting-edge biology labs around the country to try to figure out where the breakthrough ideas actually came from. He basically recorded everything, Big Brother-style, and what he found was that the image of the scientist having the epiphany at the microscope was actually a myth; the breakthroughs were much more likely to happen at the weekly lab meeting, where everyone gets together and shares the latest updates about their research. There’s something about the informal, bouncing-off-each-other space that is ripe for connection and new discovery, or that helps you see your own problems in a new light. I think that’s part of the reason the coffeehouse of the Enlightenment was such a powerful driver of creative thought as well: put a mix of interesting people together with different passions and fields of expertise, and get them to riff on their work or research or hobbies, and new ideas will almost invariably emerge.”

There are phrases in that answer—“informal, bouncing-off-each-other space,” “put a mix of interesting people together with different passions and fields of expertise”—that perfectly describe what happens at SIPA Conferences, particularly the upcoming Marketing Conference in Miami, Nov. 10-12, given that it’s more intimate than the June Conference.

The IdeaSlam, set for Miami, is designed just in that way. Put interesting people together with various passions and expertise and let them at some real problems. (By the way, we’re still looking for more problems to solve. If you have any and want to win a highly valued report, email Julie Utano.) I probably need to brush up on my coffeehouse of the Enlightenment, but the idea of creating a comfortable environment where people feel free to share information snugly describes a SIPA Conference atmosphere.

The other fascinating answer came from a question about inspirations. “I always think an idea doesn’t just ‘pop,’ it’s always based on collective inspirations over time,” the questioner stated. “Wanted to hear your insight on this.”

Said Johnson: “Yes, that’s a major theme of the book. It’s not just the amount of inspirations that flow into an individual’s mind—it’s also the diversity of sources in that person’s network. A number of studies have shown that unusually innovative people—not just in the arts, but also in traditional organizations and businesses—tend to have much more diverse social networks. This is the non-political argument for diversity; being around people with different backgrounds actually makes you a more original thinker! It’s also an explanation of why innovative thinkers often have a rich collection of hobbies. (Darwin was a great example of this, with his barnacles and gardens and earthworms, etc.) The diversity of the different interests creates a richer network of ideas in the individual’s mind, even when he or she is dining alone.”

Again, come to Miami and we can guarantee that you will meet people with a diversity of different interests, and that you will not have to dine alone.

SIPA has two events coming up—one tonight in
San Francisco! the other Tuesday in Washington, D.C
where people can trade thoughts and ideas with each other.

Tonight! Thursday, October 14, 6:30 p.m.
A Networking Dinner With SIPA President Guy Cecala
Presented by the SIPA Northern California Chapter

Still time to sign up!
Share, learn and meet with fellow publishers, and with
Guy Cecala, CEO of Inside Mortgage Finance Publications, Inc.
Il Fornaio, 1265 Battery Street
Levi’s Plaza, San Francisco

Tuesday, October 19, 8-9:30 a.m.
Capital Content Network Breakfast
The Outlook of the Information Industry for 2011

(Join more than 50 of your peers!)
Speaker: Anthea Stratigos, Co-founder, Outsell, Inc.
The Kiplinger Building
1729 H Street, NW, Washington, D.C.

And mark your calendar for Wednesday, Dec. 8 for a
Holiday Networking Reception in Washington, D.C.

More details to follow!

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