I keep talking about how connecting ideas in novel ways is the central act in the innovation process. I’ve been on a bit of a Neil Gaiman kick recently ( he’s SO good!), and today I was reading the Introduction to Smoke and Mirrors and found more examples of this. In the intro he includes brief descriptions of how each of the pieces in the book came into being. Here’s one of these descriptions:
This story came from a number of things coming together (that’s where we writers Get Our Ideas, in case you were wondering). One of them was the late Roger Zelazny’s book A Night in Lonesome October, which has tremendous fun with the various stock characters of horror and fantasy. At about the same time, I was reading an account of a French werewolf trial held 300 years ago. I realised while reading the testimony of one witness that the account of this trial had been an inspiration for Saki’s wonderful story ‘Gabriel-Ernest’ and also for James Branch Cabell’s short novel The White Robe, but that both Saki and Cabell had been too well brought up to use the throwing-up of the fingers motif, a key piece of evidence in the trial. Which meant that it was now all up to me.
That’s the way that most innovative ideas occur – combining things that already in exist in novel ways.
How can we make it easier to do this ourselves? There are two ways. One is to build expertise in an area. This makes it easier for you to make these connections. They look like bolt of lightning-type insights, but these are built on hard work.
The second step is to do something that you love – something that Hugh MacLeod hit on in his post today on unifying work and love. People keep asking me how I find time to blog. There’s two answers – one is that I don’t watch television (this blog is part of the cognitive surplus that Clay Shirky talks about!), but the main answer is that I’m doing what I love. So everything that I do, even if it’s ‘just’ leisure, triggers ideas (connections!) that I can use here on the blog, in the classroom, in talks and in research.
(the picture is from Hugh’s daily newsletter – you can subscribe to it here)