According to Steven Johnson, author of Where Good Ideas Come from, there are two key dynamics that drive innovation: platforms and liquid networks. Johnson suggests that the myth of the ingenious scientist working alone in his lab peering into a microscope that experiences a revolutionary ‘aha’ moment is less likely to happen in real life. Also, the image of a creative spark like a light bulb that flashes inside or above someone’s head is also not representative of a new idea coming to fruition. The anatomy of an idea, from its inception, looks more like a network that branches out from new neural connections. Johnson further argues that these new groundbreaking idea networks are more likely to be conceived and formed within dense, collaborative environments.
“The popular image of creativity is of the lone genius swimming heroically against an oppressive tide of convention pursuing ideas that no one has had before. There are numerous examples of iconic figures who have made groundbreaking contributions in their own areas of work. But the image of the lone genius can be misleading. Original ideas may emanate from the creative inspiration of individual minds, but they do not emerge in a cultural vacuum,” says Sir Ken Robinson. He further states that, “Individual creativity is almost always stimulated by the work, ideas and achievements of other people.”
David Kord Murray explores the notion of copying ideas, combining them with other ideas, and creating new ideas from them. He illustrates this dynamic at length in his book, Borrowing Brilliance. His book, as well as Johnson’s book, and the ideas of Sir Ken Robinson, Harmut Esslinger, Scott Belsky, Seth Godin, Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung, and many others, have obviously influenced the ideas in my book. The new ideas that were conceived through this process are my converged and refined innovations, concepts such as creativity in the cloud (the innovation platform), metacognition (innovation psychology), personal innovation, brandcognition (the art of differentiation), and my exploration of personal mythology to strengthen the imagination and reach new creative potentialities. Sir Ken Robinson would also posit that the creative unconscious is often the platform in which new ideas are born.
“Being creative is not a purely intellectual process. It may draw on all areas of human consciousness: on feelings, intuitions and being playfully imaginative, as well as on knowledge and practical skills. Creativity often taps into areas of consciousness that are not regulated by conscious thought. Our best ideas sometimes come to mind without our thinking consciously about them at all. If we can’t work something out, it is often better to sleep on a problem or put it to the ‘back of our minds’ where our subconscious mulls it over in ways that we can’t control and may deliver a solution to us unbidden.”
Innovation occurs on many levels. From a physiological level, an individual’s brain activates and connects to new networks through synaptic activity and distinct neural formations. As this happens a parallel process takes place on a psychological level. This is where creative transformation occurs. An individual’s stream of consciousness functions as a liquid network that creates new ideas. On an external and collective level new ideas are formed through vast networks of networks that connect with one another. Seeing the anatomy of an idea in this regard intrigued me—because it illustrated the connections and collisions of synapses and neurotransmitters parallel to conscious and unconscious creative processes. Perhaps this was what led to the inception of this book.
I wanted to explore this process on a microscopic or even atomic level and also how it functions on a macroscopic, collective, and universal level—including how this dynamic functions on a metropolitan scale and across multiple digital and traditional platforms. I also wanted to further explore Steven Johnson’s studies in regards to fostering innovation and how it might function on parallel planes—the personal, psychological, and collective levels of online and cloud-based connectivity. How do these connections and neural networks operate on a biochemical level? What happens when you extend these networks from biochemical reactions in the brain to bytes and packets being transferred through broadband pathways of distribution? How does this play out through interactivity on a massive scale on digital platforms within social networks in which others can participate in and contribute to the conversation? How does this dynamic get enhanced in a highly collaborative setting in which diverse individuals exchange ideas, share their opinions, or rally around a cause? My exploration takes Johnson’s ideas and applies them to solving practical business and marketing challenges, or any challenges for that matter—leveraging the creative and design thinking innovation process to drive results and achieve your goals. This is what I call design intelligence.
If you were to use the law of concentration to curate a series of ideas—relevant or non-related, cultivate them in a meaningful and focused way, and transform them into refined and purposeful content, could this drive innovation and create value for a brand? Could you leverage these principles and create your own innovation platform? And what happens when vast networks of this nature start to form new networks? What would this new creative cloud look like? Perhaps you could leverage this power of the wisdom of crowds to drive even more value for your company, listen intently to what your customers want, or create your own movement.
Platforms don’t just help the process. They exponentially amplify it. Innovation is found in these environments of what Johnson calls the adjacent possible. These environments are not just two times more innovative. They are seventeen times more innovative. They recycle and amplify the processes and organization of new species as well as push the limits of possibility.