I recently watched Steven Johnson’s TED talk on where good ideas come from. Steven talks about how the coffee houses in England in the 1600s were fertile breeding grounds for good ideas. The smart and wise would meet to discuss the latest scientific theories or the political issues of the day and provide solutions to the worlds great problems. He jokes how innovation increased once ideas were discussed over stimulants rather than the previously heavily used depressants i.e. Gin, and while I don’t agree with this fully, I hate coffee, I can see his point.
Steven says that we need these kind of environments for ideas to grow and flourish and to quote another recent TED speaker, Matt Ridley, have sex. Have sex? Yes we want ideas to flirt, fornicate and reproduce. Organisations could do with some modern day coffee house equivalents or better yet idea nightclubs where cheap and easy ideas go to dance and look for lust (get your coat you hot idea you’ve pulled). Sure there will be a few morning after pills and a few trips to the GUM clinic but hopefully a few meaningful connections will be made as well.
Inside organisations these environments for stimulant fuelled idea discussions are few and far between. Sure they have canteens and maybe some other informal meeting spaces but the chances of getting the right people together in these spaces are slim. This is due to the usual reasons such as people are busy and the fact that in large organisations they work in vastly different geographic locations. The relatively new enterprise 2.0 collaboration tools are still in their infancy so online hunch cultivating fields are not yet tilled. Maybe we need some more interesting analogue solutions, how about dry wipe boards on the back of toilet doors, the perfect space to think.
Outside the office environment it is much easier to connect ideas, to search out people to validate your hunch, as the big wide world more than likely contains people that think like you, where as the average sized company may not. The collaboration tools are also much more mature externally. Twitter, GitHub, Slideshare etc. allow you to sow those hunches and see if they germinate (metaphor being overworked like an arid patch of land).
For all the external environments benefits, for those that work in certain industries e.g. banks, the discussion of ideas outside the factory walls can have a disastrous effect on a persons career. Whether loose lipped individuals let innovative ideas slip in a real world coffee house or virtual coffee houses such as Twitter they are certainly skating on thin ice. Does this lack of ability to cultivate externally hamper the growth of these hunches?
How about some physical Hunch Cultivation Mechanisms? All these social collaboration tools are all well and good but why has the world not delivered us something that really can cultivate hunches? I am thinking something along the lines of everlasting gobstopper machine in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Instead of the machine spitting out gobstoppers it actually takes in your hunches (not sure how, may involve the transfer of bodily fluids) and spits (maybe that is the bodily fluid transfer method) out perfectly formed and delicious products/services/things of beauty.
Maybe it is more like The Matrix where a cable is plugged directly into your brain, or better yet your belly button as we all know the hunch is a gut feeling. Your hunch is transferred into the digital realm where it can instantly be filtered and matched against the millions of other hunches. The computed and digitally generated idea can then be faithfully reproduced in The Matrix complete with green hue to give it that Wachowski feel.
Not really sure where this is going so I better wrap up. The key hunch cultivation mechanism is a human being and the one who had the hunch in the first place but they do need tools to help them cultivate the hunch. I need a stiff drink to help me think about all this and not one made from ground coffee beans and hot water.
You can buy Steven’s book, Where Good Ideas Come From, and I have just taken delivery of it so I am hoping he has the answers to my questions above.