Investigating Illuminations and Discovering Insight

Where do good ideas come from? How does innovation happen? What sparks brilliance?

Insight can be achieved through a predictable path, aided by collaboration.  In my recent series of posts, we’ve been exploring the pathway for Getting to Insight – a seven-step process to spur acutely innovative moments.

We looked at orienting to the mission and clarifying intention through the example of Sparkseed, an entrepreneur incubator. In Google’s quest to build a better boss, we explored the importance of gathering data and letting it percolate.

This week, Steven Johnson, author of Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation (see video) gives us a window into investigating illuminations and discovering insight.

Inspired by the aromatic, latte-infused, wi-fi loving coffeeshop – the birthplace of so much modern imagination – Johnson poses a poignant question: “What are the spaces that have historically led to unusual rates of creativity?”

The critical driver in historical innovation, Johnson argues, is connectedness. It’s the exposure of our own nascent ideas to those of others that turn half-baked hunches into insight. Today’s hyper-connected society makes radical innovation not only possible but more accessible than ever before, Johnson concludes.

Steps for Getting to Insight
1) Mission-Orient
2) Clarify Intention
3) Gather Data
4) Steep & Percolate
5) Investigate Illuminations
6) Discover It
7) Plan & Execute Insightfully

The challenge, of course, is harnessing that innovative potential. How do we synthesize the brilliance within us and the brilliance around us to create insight that is both personally relevant and globally significant?

Step #5 in Getting to Insight is to persist along the energetic pathways where you sense “the answer” may be found. This step is all about energy, intuition, and potential – about feeling it. It’s a truly electric sensation, akin to sensing the answer is on the tip of your tongue. You’ve got a hunch…or as Johnson calls it, a “slow hunch”…and you’re giving it room to unfold.

When insight begins to crystallize, you’ve reached Step #6. Now is the time to articulate and record your discovery. At this stage, insights are fleeting. Scribble furiously on a napkin if you must. Keep a notepad by your bed for awareness that arrives in the middle of the night.

Where do you do your best thinking? What is it about that space that makes your neural pathways predictably and more powerfully play?