Steven Berlin Johnson wrote in his seventh book, Where Good Ideas Come From, that “chance favors the connected mind.” Espousing the theory that innovation comes from the chaotic, unexpected collisions of two (or more) hunches, he certainly debunks the myth of the lone inventor toiling away in an ivory tower waiting for a singular eureka moment. Johnson advises us to regularly hang at the local coffeehouse (it was, after all, the Age of Enlightenment’s version of the Internet), and to gather around the conference table to connect ideas rather than protect them.
John Marshall Roberts, author of Igniting Inspiration, says that new solutions to old problems come from dialogue and collective surrender to a larger vision. Part of that larger vision comes from removing limiting assumptions…and it’s nearly impossible to see our own limiting assumptions without looking through someone else’s eyes.
I’ve been working with kids at the Chemung Valley Montessori School this past month. One of their favorite activities is shared storytelling. One child begins making up a story, and when I point to someone else, that student has to start from where the first child left off and go from there. We go around the circle until everyone has a chance to contribute.
At any moment, I can also proclaim, “Then suddenly!” and if I do, that is the storyteller’s cue to drastically change the direction of the story. Maybe it rains purple socks, or a monster appears, or the sword in our hero’s hand melts into chocolate to feed his enemies.
After a good 15-minute romp through our collective imaginations, we’ve giggled our way to some pretty cool life lessons. First, since you are the author of your own life story, it never has to be boring—just use your imagination! Second, whenever you get stumped, you can say to yourself, “then suddenly,” allowing new options to replace whatever limiting assumptions are blocking the path. And third, the best way to create a life full of excitement, fun, imagination and inspiration, is to rely on other people to inject their ideas into your storyline.
So when I’m looking for a little managed disruption and collaborative creativity, I remember that an idea is literally a new network of neurons firing in my brain. I try something new, take a risk, invite my nemesis to lunch—anything to give my half of an idea the chance to bump into someone else’s! And then suddenly!