On Ideas, Inspiration, & Innovation

21 05 2008

Innovation = putting things together in a way that no one ever thought of before

I just finished one of the most inspiring articles I’ve ever read.

(I will connect it to capoeira at the end, but the main point of this post is mainly to tell you about the article, which is amazing.)

It’s called “In the Air”, by Malcom Gladwell (author of The Tipping Point and Blink), and in it he writes about how famous, revolutionary, groundbreaking ideas…are out there for anyone to come up with.

DiscoveriesYou know the ones: evolution, the telephone, calculus, colour photography…and at least 144 other “major scientific discoveries” were all “discovered”/”invented” by more than one person, in different periods of time as well as within days of each other, without the other(s) even knowing.

The conclusion from this is that it doesn’t take our traditional idea of a “genius” to come up with such ideas—that is, Darwin and Alexander Graham Bell and many of the rest weren’t geniuses in the sense that they and only they could have been the ones to come up with their respective theories/discoveries/inventions. If any of them had met an untimely death, someone else could and would have eventually discovered/realized the same thing, perhaps taking a different or longer path (or not even), but ultimately reaching the same destination.

Rather, Darwin et al. were geniuses because they had the capacity to spend the time, put in the effort, and think in the lateral, creative, out-of-the-box ways required to come up with their ideas. So, it’s reasoned that if you got many slightly less remarkable people together and had them brainstorm crazily for long periods of time, something would come out of that. Lo and behold:

“So Edward took his people out, plus me,” Wood said. “And the eight of us sat down at a table and the attorney said, ‘Do you mind if I record the evening?’ And we all said no, of course not. We sat there. It was a long dinner. I thought we were lightly chewing the rag. But the next day the attorney comes up with eight single-spaced pages flagging thirty-six different inventions from dinner. Dinner.”

I should note here that those eight people at dinner included a law degree-holding electrical engineer, and a biologist who once walked across Texas with nothing but a sleeping bag, flashlight, and rifle. (I really meant it when I said only “slightly” less remarkable.) Still, these men have come up with real ways to do things like filtering cancer cells out of someone’s blood, or literally harnessing the power of ocean waves to stop hurricanes.

GeniusAccording to the article, someone is a genius not just because they thought of a particular idea that would never have been discovered otherwise, but because they were able to do it all on their own. The important thing to note from that is: the idea is out there. It’s not locked up within any one particular person, never to make an entrance into history if that person suddenly disappears. Maybe it takes a team of eight almost-geniuses to discover what one genius could discover on their own, but the discovery is still able to be made. All it takes is enough looking and thinking.

One reason the team above, Intellectual Ventures, is so successful is because of the crazily varied backgrounds, experience, and expertise of each member. You look at a problem in enough number of different ways, and eventually a spectacular solution will be found. For instance, the cancer cell filter came out of introducing a doctor to a physicist; one had the problem, the other had the solution, but they never would’ve known it without criscrossing the two fields together.

So theoretically…any one of us could do this. Just using capoeira as an example, what if you could get a group of eight novice to advanced capoeiristas together, who all had completely different specialities (e.g. photographer, academic, tradesperson, stay-at-home mom, financial expert, advertising director, journalist, musician), and just discussed capoeira for a few hours, keeping innovation in mind the whole time? What kind of new ideas, creative strategies, philosophical twists, interesting moves might come out of that?

I got so excited after reading this article, I opened my browser and started writing up this post right away. I hope it got you thinking too, about ideas, and solutions, and innovation, and where it all comes from, and the idea that it can come from one of us. Just imagine the possibilities!

Picture source: http://www.salsaspirit.co.za/images/capoeira.jpg

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11 responses

21 05 2008
faisca

I thought this was going to be about a capoeira-themed iPod! =P

This is definitely a great way to look at our lives and at the world. Many people say stuff like “every story that can be told has been told,” or “there is no such thing as a new idea,” which are bull.

Even old ideas can give fruit to new innovations and new ideas, that’s what is so great about the human brain and human interaction. The power of our minds is unlimited, and it sucks when people close their minds to wonder, creativity, imagination, etc.

I’ve always said that I don’t want to grow up. I always want the “kid inside of me” to be there. I don’t say this in terms of, “oh I don’t want to have responsibilities and have to work for a living” which is what people tend to automatically assume if I ever mention it. I mean that I never want to lose my imagination, my curiosity, etc, which are vital to coming up with these new ideas.

That is one of the reasons that I’m so drawn to capoeira: the creativity and child-like nature of it all. Again, not child-like in a bad way (not immature or childish, but maybe those aren’t bad either, I think it’s good to be immature every once in a while), but child-like as just… pure fun and imagination.

I’d be curious to see the results of a right-brain/left-brain poll of capoeiristas. I have an idea of what the results may be… Perhaps it’s something I’ll try to pull off on my blog in the future…

Thanks for the link to the article and the thoughtful topic! I just wrote an off-topic post, but it’s not nearly as philosophic and deep as this one =P

21 05 2008
hera

Hi Joaninha!

This is a great post!! —and it is on a subject that I personally have been thinking about a great deal.

I actually just wrote a slight blurb referencing an opinion piece on the “Dumbing of America”. The author writes about how we are all just extremely distracted and are moving away from the old methods and traditions which nurtured those inner sparks of curiosity and wonder we carry within ourselves ((reading, REAL in-person conversation, etc.)).

I think that innovation and collaboration are the only ways that humanity can grow and progress…but how does this tie in with Capoeira??

In my opinion, Capoeira IS one of those beautifullylayered traditions in which we nurture those sparks. It is one of those teachers where we discover the things about ourselves that can lead to innovation and evolution outside of the Jogo. One cannot just begin to transform everything around Themselves if they haven’t discovered what it IS they have to Share and Offer!

I agree—All the wonderful people we all train with and encounter during our Capoeira journey are full of fascinating perspectives and ideas–and hopefully, they will add their own flavor to the beautiful and badass things Capoeira can teach us.

We grow this way.

Then we can all go out and collaborate, innovate and share ourSelves with the world.

21 05 2008
Mariposa

Hi Joanina, love the post!!!

It’s true, ideas are out there and I don’t really know why is it that these ideas are paid attention to only when a “person with authority” expresses them? Did you ever saw the add when a member of a meeting says an idea and nobody listens to him, but when their boss sais it – everybody starts giving high appreciations? Did you know that Luis Pasteur has been rejected the recognition of his discoveries in microbiology simply because he first was known as a talented painter?! The french Academy of Science has recognized his achievements and has made him it’s member long after Pasteur’s death!!!

Did you know that solid fuel for our rockets has been invented in a discussion like this?!

I know that I am thursty for such discussions as the “dinner” you’ve described in your article. And I am lucky to be a member of a network of worldwide professionals, united for their will to contribute to the promotion of sustainable development – LEAD (Leadership for Environment and Development). visit http://www.lead.org for info. I have to tell you that I feel so enriched every time I get to meet with these people – who are of different professions, have advanced and senior positions in government, business, academia, NGO community, health, media etc. etc.

I also try to have discussions like this in my Capoeira community. It is true, Capoeira does not attract people from one specific domain =) We have artists, singer, bank worker, dancers, musicians, biologist, computer specialist, pilot, students!!! It’s a pool of a rich variety of experience, cultures and angles of view. It’s awsome that we get together on Saturdays after roda “for sushi”, but it’s more the communication we come for, after a good workout and excitement from the game. I love asking questions, listening to what people have to say and sharing my thoughts and experiences. I hope we get more of those discussions about life =)

Axeeee!

22 05 2008
Joaninha

Hey Faisca,

Hahaha…hope I didn’t disappoint you, then. 😛

I completely agree…how can every story in the universe have been told, every possible combination of all the neurons in every human on earth and every enormous and tiny idea out there put together and expressed in every possible way?? It’s unthinkable!

It does suck, and what sucks even more is there are all these articles about how this or that malady of “modern day society” has somehow been creatively resolved by one person in a completely unexpected way, resulting in them enjoying life, living, all of it more…and yet people still insist on treading the old hamster wheel while complaining about the world sinking into a rut, not even realizing that just taking one step to the left or right could give them acccess to a whole new world… (alright, not the best analogy here as the “whole new world” is a cage, of all things, but you get the idea!)

Really, Faisca? I’m surprised; in my experience most people usually get what that expression means. That kind of says something, though—not only are they resisting being creative and innovative, the entire concept of it has become foreign to them! Which is really sad, if you think about it…just tell them to look at a kid’s wide-eyed expression at everything, and imagine how amazing life would be if you were able to retain that mentality, all the time?

I feel exactly the same, about capoeira! The creativity and playfulness…hahaha wow, you seem really sensitive to being thought of as a child in a negative way…have you been bugged a lot about that by your friends, or something? I think most people would understand what you meant here on the first go, as well, especially if we’re fellow capoeiristas!

“Pure fun and imagination” – one of my favourite phrases that has crossed my eyes today 😀

Wow…please do, because that’d be fascinating, and I have *NO* idea what the results may be!

I just clicked from your comment straight through to your post—hahaha! I’m sorry, I did laugh (well, your comment’s set-up helped), and I did want to tell you everything you said everyone would tell you. But for what it’s worth, the first look. =P

22 05 2008
Joaninha

Hi Hera!

You’ll never believe this, but as soon as I wrote this post, I thought to myself, “I should drop Hera a note to tell her about this!” I actually saw that blurb you wrote, and a lot of the things you post on your blog do seem to be along similar lines to this article, or related ideas. It’s true, that article, and it’s horrible, when I can even feel that shift in myself sometimes (shorter attention span, etc.).

Yeah, I think capoeira is perfect for this kind of thinking, as well! Although I can’t really think of any extreme cases where something like that has happened for me yet (innovation in capoeira leading to innovation in real life, or vice versa), I’m hoping it’ll come with time. ^^”

You seem to really have a handle on this idea…growth, collaboration, sharing…awesome stuff, when we can bring it all together like that!

22 05 2008
Joaninha

Mariposa!

Thanks =)

I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed that phenomenon firsthand, but I’ve definitely read about similar things happening to other people! And no, I didn’t know any of that! Wow, it looks like you’re pretty well-versed in this stuff already ^^”

You know what, the more I think about it, the more I’m wondering if I should try organizing an “online discussion” between a bunch of us, like in the article, as I described, just for fun! Wouldn’t that be awesome if we could actually pull it off?? (Though I can imagine the headache figuring out timezones would involve…!)

I checked out the LEAD website, it seems really great! I’m surprised I haven’t heard of it before. o.O What kind of things do you do for it, exactly?

Capoeira, sushi, and discussions with interesting people? That sounds like the perfect combination! I hear you…heh, at my last capoeira event I got the impression that I was asking questions to a fault (okay, not so much “got an impression” as “was told outright” 😉 )

Hope you’re doing well!!

22 05 2008
Pipoca

Wow! I have this same thinking process. This article sounds to me like something I might write in a private journal or think of during a meditative moment. Very nice. I will pass this along to my friends and family as well!

22 05 2008
faisca

“hahaha wow, you seem really sensitive to being thought of as a child in a negative way…have you been bugged a lot about that by your friends, or something?”

As a matter of fact, yeah. A bunch of people I know are constantly telling me I need to “grow up” and stuff. Some friends, some just acquaintances. People are so quick to say “you need to get a job and make money and just do what you’re supposed to do.” and when I say something like “I want to be a comic book writer” or “I enjoy impersonating Jack Sparrow,” they’re like “dude, grow up.” Hey man, I just like having fun!

Everyone seems to like my bald look. Hmm…

22 05 2008
Joaninha

Hey Pipoca!

Really? That’s so cool, you must have a lot of activity going on up there all the time, then 😀 I’m glad you liked the article! To be honest, I didn’t really expect it to resound this much with people. After reading all of your guys’ comments, I’m definitely glad I ended up posting it after all!

24 05 2008
Joaninha

Hey Faisca,

Wow, that’s too bad. Your friends/acquaintances…sound a little bit like my parents. XD Are they also your age, just 23?

Also…”what you’re supposed to do”…if someone said that to me, I would totally take issue with it! What’s that supposed to mean? If anything, the fact that you want to be a comic book writer (assuming for the sake of my point that it’s your passion/dream, not a random comment…unless it actually is your passion/dream), then by a lot of standards/life “philosophies”, that’s *exactly* what you’re “supposed” to do! Just because most people end up in average jobs that they don’t really love doesn’t mean we’re all obligated to go the same way! That’s exactly what we’re *not* supposed to do! Not if we want amazing, fulfilling, love-every-single-damn-thing-I-do lives, anyway…

24 05 2008
Akira

@Faisca: most people confuse ‘growing old’ with ‘taking responsibility’. It is possible to be a responsible member of society and still take delight from the simpler things in life. Me, I’ll never grow up. Most people do, and look at how much fun they’re having. Some even have so much fun they throw themselves off buildings. If that’s ‘growing up’, then it’s a hell no from me.

@Joaninha: I read the original article. Very thought-provoking stuff. One of the things I love about capoeira is that in this game/sport/system, you are encouraged to travel and meet new people. It gives you plenty of opportunities to experience a wide range of perspectives that you would not normally have. Furthermore, at the bigger events, many mestres from all over are united and that must have some sort of impact on the way capoeira is being shaped for the future. It’s all very exciting.

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