Shattering the Myth of the ‘Lightbulb Idea’

how ideas happen

When we hear stories of people having world-changing ideas, often, they are told in a way that makes them sound like breakthroughs or sudden flashes of insight. They are portrayed as light bulbs or as bolts of lightning, and often, we hear stories of what sparked the idea, be it a falling apple or an overflowing bathtub.
While this notion is somewhat romantic and certainly persistent, it turns out that this may not be how ideas happen.

How Ideas  Happen

This is a subject that has been studied extensively by psychologists and scientists, and almost universally, the reality turns out to be quite different.
How ideas happen, it would seem, do not normally appear suddenly as if from nowhere. Instead, they tend to arrive quietly and not fully formed. Usually, ideas start as hunches, nudges, or throwaway thoughts. It’s when these ideas and thoughts are allowed to gestate and grow that they will emerge as something fully formed and game changing.

Einstein’s A’ha Moment

Take Einstein’s theory of relativity, for instance. Often, you hear the story of how he imagined ‘riding’ a beam of light and looking back on the world, which, suddenly, made everything click into place. But don’t forget that he had been thinking about this problem for years first and had actually published the theory in incomplete form as the ‘Special Theory of Relativity’. That ‘a-ha’ moment was only the last piece of the puzzle. Likewise, the iPhone is really just an iteration of the iPod, and when it was first announced, it didn’t even have the app store that arguably led to its success.

There’s No ‘I’ in Inspiration

Okay there is, but metaphorically, there’s not. The point is that research and surveys show that in most cases, ideas are team efforts. Remember, ideas work best when they are allowed to gestate and grow. One of the best ways to incubate these ideas is by talking about them.
Inspiration arrives when we combine different ideas and when our thoughts travel from one topic to another, leading to unique insights and combinations. This very closely mirrors the way that conversations evolve over time, as we move seamlessly from one topic to another.

Discuss Your Ideas

So, if you want to encourage the creative flow of ideas, the best way to do it is by discussing them. This is how ideas happen. Don’t make the mistake of trying to come up with the next big thing overnight, all on your own. As it turns out, it just doesn’t work like that!