While I Compile

… I compile my thoughts about programming

Response to Seth Godin’s – Where do ideas come from?

Seth Godin is wrong

I just read Seth Godin’s blog post Where do ideas come from? And in my opinion he completely missed it.

Sorry, I think Seth is awesome as do many others, but on this one, I don’t think he really answered the question; where do ideas come from?  Instead, in my opinion, what he wrote was more a list of favourable conditions

While I’m no Seth Godin, I’m going to share my understanding of ideas and their source[1].

I hope I don’t need to explain why a post about ideas and creativity is on a programming blog.

Ideas come from questions

Ideas are answers to those questions.

Although it may appear that ideas come out of nowhere while driving to work or zoning out in the shower, they are really answering previously asked questions burning in your subconscious.  There are many conditions which help answers come more easily, but they never come if you don’t have the question in the first place.

Questions need to be installed into your subconscious

A fleeting question doesn’t quite make it into your subconscious to be answered later.  The question needs to be important enough to be prioritized by your mind.

Installations depth comes from emotion

The importance of the question is largely based on the intensity of the emotion driving the question.  That’s why many innovations come during massive change and crisis.  Fear and greed inspire many ideas.

New information is assimilated to answer these questions

New questions are never installed for questions you already have the information needed to answer it.  So you need more information to answer the question and will need time to assimilate new information which is filtered against your question.

This information can be from; feedback from action, random thoughts in the shower, synergy, social media, blogs, news, conversations, books, radio, lectures, etc…  And yes, Seth even television[2]

Fear constrains ideas

Fear eliminates ideas.  Whether criticism of a bad idea, or constraint, or even a well-meaning, ‘helpful’ person who’s experienced proves it cannot be done.

When people fear criticism, ideas are never put forth which may inspire better ideas.  All ideas must be valued for an innovative environment.

Forcing ideas constrains you to existing information

You’ll hear many people say that you sit down, brainstorm, make your decisions quickly and take immediate action, which is great, when you have all the information you need.  But unless you have all the information you need, forcing it quickly usually won’t give you an awesome idea.

Synergy is creativity’s compound interest

Ideas usually require time, but they can be sped up with synergy[3].

Synergy is instantaneous compound interest for creativity.

One idea (good or bad) leads to another idea, then another, and another.  Before you know it, the feedback cycle has taken you down an entirely different path.

But Seth was right about one thing

Ideas that don’t ship are worthless


[1] I’m also not a psychologist, so take this as more my own, possibly misunderstood, idea of how ideas happen.

[2] Television may not appear to be a motivator for ideas, because most people watch TV passively, but if your questions are installed deeply enough, it can still be a half decent source of information.

[3] I realize the word Synergy has been over used as a business buzzword, but it is a real concept.  Don’t let the buzzword throw you off.

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November 24, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized

1 Comment »

  1. Great post, John! I picked up Scott Berkun’s “The Myths of Innovation” and the first chapter addresses this and the myth of the epiphany. He wants us to stop using the word innovation and instead get more specific and shoot for “significant positive change”.

    Comment by JenRBoyd | November 25, 2010


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