Darwin, Good Ideas, and Lifelong Connections

Reading Where Good Ideas Come From (yes an affiliate link, thank you!) by Steve Johnson will provide a new appreciation for notebooks. Notebooks are a tool that aid the mind in making connections. Although on the face of it using a notebook may seem simplistic, in practice the results allow for a proliferation of ideas and connections. Notebooks and tools like them that help capture and manipulate ideas, are literally where good ideas come from.

Learning From Darwin

Part of what Darwin did to help make connections and discoveries was to keep an ongoing journal. Not only did he write everything down, he reread and played with the ideas, using the notebook as a tool rather than just a place to record.Where Good Ideas Come From by Steve Johnson

“Darwin was constantly rereading his notes, discovering new implications. His ideas emerge as a kind of duet between the present-tense thinking brain and all those past observations recorded on paper.”

It may sound obvious to write down ideas but it means carrying a notebook and remembering to use it. The key after writing ideas down is to reread or play with quotes on a regular basis, adding to insights or ideas already present. The principle idea is that solutions to problems are always present but not always in a linear fashion as we might like or as we have learned in school. Using a notebook provides a way to play with the timing, type, and location of ideas that come.

Berner’s Lee and the Internet

Consider how Berner’s-Lee founded the world wide web:

“The Web arose as the answer to an open challenge, through the swirling together of influences, ideas, and realizations from many sides, until, by the wondrous offices of the human mind, a new concept jelled. It was a process of accretion, not the linear solving of one problem after another.”

Writing allows the mind to easily manipulate ideas on paper and for free associations and connections. There isn’t any one problem to solve, instead it is being open to infinite possibilities and allowing the mind to make associations it might not otherwise. Those associations happen when ideas are written down, reread, and used again and again until at some point they allow for new ideas and inspirations. In his book Steve Johnson stresses that there isn’t always a eureka moment. Revelations come after periodic insights that lead up to somewhat of a eureka moment however each insight along the way could have just as easily been “the one.”

Tools Besides a Notebook

A physical notebook comes in handy if you don’t use or have a device all of the time. Besides a physical notebook there are tools such as Evernote that make it much easier to leverage different devices and places. Tools such as Evernote allow you to scan, record, or copy and paste quotes and their sources and sync from anywhere. The following is a list of possible tools to use besides or in conjunction with a notebook:

The Benefits of a Walk

It isn’t all about the notebook, There should also be time to let the mind be free from toil. Consider the power of a stroll or a shower in making discoveries by getting your mind into a state more suitable for associations.

“The history of innovation is replete with stories of good ideas that occurred to people while they were out on a stroll…The shower or stroll removes you from the task-based focus of modern life—paying bins, answering e-mail, helping kids with homework-and deposits you in a more associative state.”

Exercise gets blood and oxegen to the brain. If you don’t have headphones and are not talking to another person, then your mind has time to wander. The wandering allows for free associations to take place. Your unconscious mind to takes over and works through solutions and are brought to the surface while you walk, take a shower, or some other activity.

Try and Trust the Process

Steve Johnson’s book is well worth a read and there is obviously a lot more to it then I have here. Beyond the book, being able to leverage writing notes to make connections is partly trusting that good ideas will come from the process. Try it and I am sure you will find it not only works to bring forth good ideas but is a lot of fun as well.

Want more? Check out this post on making idea generation a daily habit.


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