How to have brilliant ideas. Trust in the slow hunch.

Everyone would love to have the next great idea – the next game changer, but of course most of us are routinely disappointed.

Much of that disappointment however is based on a perception that that billion dollar idea will just spontaneously appear and smack you between the eyes and the World will never be the same again! Indeed so many of the descriptions and metaphors that we use when we talk about ideas and innovation re-enforces that perception – we talk about flashes of inspiration, breakthroughs or epiphanies – the tada! moment.

NeuronsActiveIn reality, ideas are rarely a single explosion of insight, rather a congruence of many ideas or insights. Steven Johnson describes it brilliantly in his book, Where Ideas Come From as a ‘network’ – a specific constellation of neurons – thousands of them – firing in sync with each other for the first time in your brain.

There have been some popular and spectacular examples of what he calls the ‘slow hunch idea’ throughout the history of innovation and invention that have literally changed the World and our understanding of it.

I’m writing this, (and hopefully someone is reading it) because of the internet yet Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the internet makes no claims of a single epiphany. The Web came into being as an archetypal slow hunch. Berners-Lee’s idea to connect people via a network took at least a decade to mature.

Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection came together over years. Darwin assiduously kept notes and re-read those notes deliberately looking for those connections to help his investigations.

The eighteenth century scientist Joseph Priestly, one of the founders of modern science is famed for discovering that plants created oxygen by isolating a plant in a sealed glass. While the discovery was momentous, he was building on a hunch that had been cultivating for twenty years – as a boy he obsessed about collecting spiders in glass jars and wondered why they died in sealed jars but survived when a plant was placed in the jar.

I’ve given three examples of the so called slow hunch, but it really is the rule rather than the exception.

How to have brilliant ideas

If you want to know how to have brilliant ideas, you may well have had many of them already, they are just waiting for something to happen, some insight to come to light, some time to re-examine it, some link to be made before that idea makes sense. Have faith and persist. Don’t discard any of your ideas.

What’s crucial is that you give ideas time to cultivate and grow. The first and most important thing you can do, like Darwin, is write your ideas down! (which is why I’m publishing my ideas), but most importantly SHARE them. Then have faith that something will connect that idea at some point in the future.