Posts Tagged ‘good ideas

05
Jun
12

The spaces of innovation: Where Good Ideas Come From book review

Image Credit: stevenberlinjohnson.typepad.com

It takes a bit of hubris to write a history of good ideas. Good ideas are those which separate themselves above those that come before, so to attempt to provide insight into a wide swath of those ideas means you must fancy yourself fairly insightful. That generally yields books like Harold Bloom’s Genius: A Mosaic of One Hundred Exemplary Minds, which crafts a complicated kabbalistic schema to organize brief biographies of one hundred great minds from the history of literature. The results read like a well-crafted reference book that leaves the reader with a sense of awe for these authors. What we don’t get is much insight into where these good ideas came from, which I should add Bloom never really promises. He’s just fine with us being in awe.

The difficulty inherent in choosing to write about good ideas is partly what makes Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation such a darn clever book. Instead of focusing on the good ideas themselves, which out of context leave us with a sense of awe, Johnson focuses on the places where good ideas come from, finds patterns in the conditions that foster creativity, and suggests ways we can create those spaces in our own creative endeavors. The results are both insightful, inspiring, and extraordinarily useful for anyone interested in coming up with good ideas themselves. Continue reading ‘The spaces of innovation: Where Good Ideas Come From book review’

29
Mar
12

Hurrying the eureka moment: smarter brainstorming

I’ve heard the story of how J.K. Rowling came up with Harry Potter about a dozen times, and every time it changes.  In some versions, the boy wizard comes to her while sitting in a cafe, and she jots down the essentials on a napkin. Other times, she’s waiting for a train, and she muses over plot for the rest of the rid.

What never changes is the drama of the eureka moment. Rowling recognizes immediately the value of the idea and the direction in which she’ll take it. That moment takes on a mythic quality, a moment that changes the world of literature forever. And like most good myths, I’m confident it has a small germ of truth surrounded by a whole bunch of window dressing.

Screen shot from Steven Johnson's RSA Animated talk. Source: norweiganshooter.blogspot.com

I’m sure there are some who want to protect the genius of Rowling and sanctity of the myth of Harry Potter’s divine inspiration. They probably take my skepticism as snark. We all like to believe that inspiration might strike at any moment and an idea that will make us richer than the Queen of England will materialize from the ether.

Looking at the history of good ideas tells us a different story though. Behind every good idea is a story that looks quite different from the one where a genius plucks inspiration out of thin air. Instead, good ideas usually come from a combination of musing over a topic and exchanging ideas with other thinkers. That’s good news because it presents a process writers can follow for smarter brainstorming sessions. Continue reading ‘Hurrying the eureka moment: smarter brainstorming’




Good Writer, Bad Writer

Good writer, bad writer reflects the philosophy behind the first writing lesson I attempt to teach students. Too many of them come into college believing that their writing abilities are set in stone. The bad writers continue to struggle, and the good writers don't take enough risks in their writing, figuring that any misstep will throw them back into the "bad writer" category.

Good writer, bad writer is my attempt to break the power of that dichotomy. On here, I share the lessons and attitudes that I teach, but I also talk about the attitudes I have towards my own writing since many of those have informed my own teaching. Thanks for visiting.


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