Recently my wife Deb came up with a rather comical phrase to describe her occasional memory lapse, referring to it as her “photogeriactric memory.”

A quick Facebook post later and she had released this brilliant new phrase into the wild.

Naturally this got me thinking about where original ideas come from, and whether or not this was truly an original idea.

After a few Google searches, I found a total of 83 results for the term “photogeriactric” and an obscure 2007 reference to the phrase “photo-geriactric memory.” So it wasn’t totally original, but the question continued to plague me.

When an creative idea appears in our head, is this a form of manifest destiny, divine providence, a piece of intuition, or something more like a ripple in the force?

Original ideas can be tremendously valuable, so if we know where they come from, our inclination has always been to create more of them.

But we all have ideas. Each of us is an idea-generating machine. We are radiating ideas similar to the way the sun radiates light.

Yes, very few are truly original ideas, but some are. So then what?

We now have over 7 billion people radiating ideas, every second of every day, casting pieces of inspiration and brilliance in every possible direction. The question we should be focusing on is, where do they go?

Meet the Idea Expert

A couple years ago I had a chance to meet Steven Johnson, author of the book “Where Good Ideas Come From.” This is a book that focuses on the Eureka moments, the imagination sparks, the epiphanies where brilliant insights suddenly appear in our heads.

He concluded that people’s so called “moment of inspiration” usually took place over an extended period of time and rarely happened all at once. In his way of describing it, most discoveries start with a “slow hunch” that builds through a series of micro-epiphanies until the entire breakthrough puzzle has all its pieces in place.

During our short discussion, Steven mentioned that idea people often create their most fertile environments working with what he called “liquid networks,” much like the mastermind groups I’ve been running. With the right collections of minds focused on a topic, a well-executed discussion can lead to synergistic mind-bolts that can quickly be fashioned into completely functional ideas.

Personally, I find my most fertile moments to be ones where my body is stimulated through exercise, bicycle riding, or taking a shower while listening to the right music at the right volume. Sometimes a caffeine stimulant helps. With the right combination, I’m able to create what I call epiphanies-on-demand.

Over time I’ve started ranking epiphanies on a comparative scale and have found that it’s hard to understand the significance of an idea when it’s first occurring. It’s hard to uncover early what often becomes a fatal flaw later.

Most of these tend to be little ideas, micro-epiphanies. But in every cluster of micro-epiphanies is one with marquee-flashing-headline potential, then the question always become, “now what?”

Creating a Fertile Growing Environment for Epiphanies

Whenever a great idea forms in our head, we look for a place to put it. Is it something useful, that we can turn into a product, add to a document, tell to our friends, include in a presentation, or attach with magnets to the front of our refrigerator?

Ideas, much like parasites, need a host. If we don’t manage to gaff them before we slip into our next stream of consciousness, they will be forever lost. Without a host, these squirming little idea-fish will have a very limited shelf life.

If we manage to cluster enough of them together, they have a bit more staying power, but they still need to somehow reach critical mass before they become noteworthy.

In the past we had very few options. We could jot them down in a notebook, mention them to friends, or make a few drawings or sketches. But even then, most ideas died of isolation. We had very few “places” to put our flashes of brilliance.

Today our options have grown exponentially and good ideas can go from zero to Facebook entry in 0.9 seconds. They can be fashioned into tweets, infographics, photos, podcasts, PowerPoints, LinkedIn discussions, Quora forums, YouTube videos, submitted to blogs, or turned into interactive charticles.

We literally have thousands of placeholders for our momentary flashes of brilliance. Much like planting seeds into the freshness of damp soil, these memes have the organic potential to spring to life bursting into a colorful bouquet.

“Today, good ideas can go from zero to
Facebook entry in 0.9 seconds!”

Creating a Picture of the Bigger Picture

Every social network, discussion forum, or live webcast has become a cosmic breeding ground for Steven Johnson’s “liquid networks” and how ideas often have sex with other ideas.

So it’s analogous to thought-blocks giving birth to other thought-blocks. Ideas have a way of creating structures in our minds, and these structures become self-assembling and self-constructing in ways that we have never imagined possible.

Our future is being crafted with human genius in an organic sea where the best of the best have a way of rising to the top.

We have seriously shortened the distance between problems and solutions, pain and comfort, and products and ideas. Over the coming years these timeframes will shrink even further and become far more organic.

The better we become at filtering the signal to noise ration of human epiphanies and leveraging these storehouses of ideas, the quicker we reach what’s on the other side.

“It’s far less about where ideas come from and far more about
where they go as they enter into our emerging idea ecosystem!”

Final Thoughts

Our massive data centers have become a pulsing life form, a vibrant extension of human thinking, fueled by the relentless pipeline of ideas flowing to and from servers, much like synapse firings, to find an adjoining memory cell.

A recent report from Google indicated that roughly 20% of all searches are ones that have never been conducted before. While we will certainly not reach 20% originality in our ideas, it’s far more than zero.

As a result, a constant stream of original ideas are flowing into our data centers, and these ideas are assuming a level of prominence and influence with many poised to explode back into our physical world.

This level of human-computer synergy is still poorly understood. This form of symbiotic intelligence is different than we imagined, but at the same time, it’s exactly what we imagined.

Similar to an exoskeleton for our brain, it will be the super-participants, those with an innate affinity for tilling the idea gardens, who manage and harvest the fruits of today’s meme forests that will rise to the top.

As always, those with the most creative ideas are only part of the equation. It’s far less about where ideas come from and far more about where they go as they enter into our emerging idea ecosystem.

By Futurist Thomas Frey

Author of “Communicating with the Future” – the book that changes everything





7 Responses to “Where do great ideas come from? More importantly, where do they go?”

Comments List

  1. Lynn Smith

    loved it, Tom-- Another thought to consider… Great ideas, like child prodigies, are not always born into families who have any idea where that prodigy came from(!) much less how to support and develop her/him Should the development of great ideas, like the development of great talent, be considered a societal responsibility? and if so , Where does one go with a great idea? Blessings to you and Deb- Lynn & The Idea Brokers
    • FuturistSpeaker

      Lynn, Thanks, you're asking an important question. My sense is that the communities that do the best job of cultivating, harvesting, and mining ideas will naturally rise to the top. It becomes the ultimate form of collaboration with idea generators and idea implementers engaging each other. But it's up to the community to create the systems to make it happen. Thomas Frey
  2. <a href='' rel='external nofollow' class='url'>makheni zonneveld</a>

    Thanks Thomas - I like the fact that you say cycling, caffeine etc and work for you. You do not assume that that will work for everyone. That is a mistake we usually make - assuming that what works for us should work fo the world. Drs. Kobus Neethling and Rache Rutherford have written a brilliant book that helps to debunk creativity myths and show that we have different ways of being creative because of our different brain preferences - Creativity uncovered
    • FuturistSpeaker

      Makheni, I'm quite sure that all people need to find their own set of circumstances that will lead to peak mental performance. Thanks for your comments. Thomas Frey
  3. Gavin

    Very exciting to think billions of more minds are coming online over the next few years and the tools for those minds to express themselves will be improving. This should allow for more and better idea creativity than what we have today per internet person, imagine 10 times more creativity on the internet than we have today or even 100 times. Hopefully the patent and copyright laws will keep up so people can get the recognition they deserve without risking their home on ideas that don't pan out. Imagine Kickstarter without the need or risk for pre-orders. Imagine you make a digital product design with the help of your personal AI. You put the design on a relevant website and if it sells cheap one-offs can be sold and produced by a relevant company or yourself on a 3D printer. Things like this can be done now on a smaller scale like T-shirt and mug designs, but imagine houses, cars and unique little accessories that can be mass produced if the want and need is there. This may provide much needed income for people in the future economy if the barriers to entry are low enough.
    • FuturistSpeaker

      Gavin, You're hitting on many of the positive aspects of tapping into our growing universe of brainpower, but not all people will be helpful. In an earlier column titled, "False Wisdom of Crowds," I discuss the challenge of creating systems that allow the best ideas to rise to the top. Thanks for your feedback. Thomas Frey
  4. Gavin

    False wisdom of the crowds seemed a bit overwhelming for me, I feel thick (stupid) now. Someone might buy my cool designer plastic key chain or my never lose a pen again gadget in the future so I can live on my private island with my plane. Might have to sell a few though :) Will they still have keys and pens in the future?

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