Those of you with kids over the age of 5 (I have two, now college age), have undoubtedly heard this question asked before, albeit slightly differently. Answering that “other question”, likely with some discomfort, required a firm grasp of human anatomy, patience, and the ability to distill a complex biological function down into something that a 5-year-old could understand.
Studies have been done using sophisticated medical equipment that tell us which parts of the brain are in use during the formation of an idea, or the process of “ideation”, but that still doesn’t give us the “how” or “why”, only the “where”. Computers lack the ability to ideate; that may change in the future, but for now they only do what we ask them to in the manner we tell them to do it.
So where is it that ideas do come from?
Ideas are the result of the exposure to a certain piece or pieces of key information in an environment conducive to solving a perceived or subliminal problem at a critical moment in the thought process. In other words, ideas happen in much the same way babies “happen”; it’s a matter of being in the right place at the right time doing the right things to produce them.
So what are the critical factors to conception? And yes, we’re still talking about ideas:
1) Access to information – In order to ideate, one must have unrestricted access to information. Since one never knows which piece of information may trigger an idea at that particular time, it is important that information flow freely.
2) Collaboration – Access to people with diverse backgrounds and knowledge bases increases the amount of information available to ideate on. It also allows many people to throw fresh ideas back and forth to help them grow and become more full featured.
3) Environment – A culture that allows people to present their ideas in a non-judgmental atmosphere is vitally important, as it sustains the ideation process by encouraging team members to add to an already born idea, or to publicly give birth to their own without worrying how their idea will be accepted. This type of atmosphere is very difficult to promote as we know that, just like babies, we tend to favor our own.
Some ideas are born in group conversation, others by an individual thinking to him or herself. Some people need to be relaxed; others ideate best under the pressure of deadlines. Therefore, a combination of environments must be provided to allow people to ideate in a manner that suits them best.
4) Time – Just like babies, the conception of an idea is unpredictable. All of the elements to form the idea must be there, but it’s all in the timing. Some ideas take seconds to be born, others take years. On the plus side, the more people you have, the more likely a viable idea is born.
Once the idea is born, it of course needs to be nurtured so that it can grow and mature. Nurturing an idea a great responsibility, and one that comes with having the idea in the first place.
But we can talk about that when you’re a little bit older.