So where do new ideas come from, and is anything truly new? For many creativity is combining old ideas in new ways. According to the book, Smarter, Faster, Better, by Charles Duhigg, Thomas Edison’s inventions came from Edison transferring his knowledge of electromagnetic power from the telegraph industry to the area of lighting. In the book.
Imagine: How Creativity Works, Jonah Lehrer argues that invention is really the act of recombination. Gutenberg created the printing press by transforming his knowledge of winepresses, Velcro came from Geroge De Mestral seeing burrs cling to his dog, the search algorithm for Google is based on the ranking method used for academic articles, and scotch tape is cellophane with a coating of glue.
I may be dating myself, but this combination of ideas was illustrated in the film Working Girl starring Melanie Griffith and Harrison Ford. It was the juxtaposition of two articles in the local paper, one that a radio station was for sale, along with the engagement announcement of a client’s daughter that gave Griffith the idea that the client should purchase the station to get a foothold in media. (It is a great movie if you haven't seen it).
So how do we get better at combining those different ideas? Bringing our experiences and emotions to the table can help us to arrive at creative ideas. Mixing things up along with a little stress helps as well. This is one reason that people often say they work better with a deadline. However, trying to force an insight can make it more difficult to sort out the options. The brain needs a break and relaxation to solve problems; so that walk in nature that helps clear your head can help you arrive at the creative solution. And according to Lehrer’s book, surrounding yourself with the color blue, taking a warm shower, and listening to those crazy thoughts that pop into your mind when you first wake up, can all help you arrive at an answer. While creativity can’t be dictated, Duhigg notes that we can understand the creative process and set the stage to help creativity flourish. Check out Smarter, Faster, Better, and Imagine: How Creativity Works, for an in-depth discussion on these ideas.