The Process of Cultivating Creative Ideas



Elting Morison’s case study of innovation, HERE, also provides a great discussion on the process of cultivating creative ideas. This is a good primer on how leaders can start to develop an environment that is welcoming to change and new innovative ideas.

Elting says:

Notice here finally, the intricate interaction of chance, the intellectual climate, and Scott’s mind. Fortune (in this case the unaware gun pointer) indeed favors the prepared mind, but even fortune and the prepared mind need a favorable environment before they can conspire to produce sudden change. No intelligence can proceed very far above the threshold of existing data or the binding combinations of existing data.

Deeply rooted in the pedagogical mind often enough is a sterile infatuation with “inert ideas”; there is thus always present in the profession the tendency to be diverted from the process by which these ideas, or indeed any ideas, are really produced.

I well remember with what contempt a class of mine, which was reading Leonardo da Vinci’s Notebooks, dismissed the author because he appeared to know no more mechanics than, as one wit in the class observed, a Vermont Republican farmer of the present day. This is perhaps the result to be expected from a method of instruction that too frequently implies that the great generalizations were the result, on the one hand, of chance - an apple falling in an orchard or a teapot boiling on the hearth - or, on the other hand, of some towering intelligence proceeding in isolation inexorably toward some prefigured idea, like evolution, for example.

This process by which new concepts appear, the interaction of fortune, intellectual climate, and the prepared imaginative mind, is an interesting subject for examination offered by any case study of innovation.

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Walter Isaacson on What Makes a Genius