Sunday, February 27, 2011

Where Your Next BIG Idea Is Lurking

A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder -How Crammed Closets, Cluttered Offices, and On-the-fly Planning Make the World a Better Place, by Eric Abrahamson and David Freedman, (read by Scott Brick)

I have always secretly believed that you have to be able to tolerate a little chaos - sometimes even a lot of chaos - to get to the really good stuff - whatever that might be.  I could be making excuses for my clutter.  Or, I may simply be living my own "perfect mess" which would be the balance between a pristine desk (something I have never achieved any where) and the bedroom so full of clutter that you have no place to lay your head (something I have always managed to avoid).

The most important thing is that a truly perfect "perfect mess" is that it is the ideal environment for unexpected things to happen - for discovery, creativity, invention, and even productivity.  Plus you get to save all the time and money costs of getting and staying organized.

The perfect mess creates the opportunity for unexpected connections that may be, for example, between friends or contacts who don't know each other or between articles on unrelated topics.  But the real key is that a little mess may allow a note from a friend to "touch" an interesting article and make some utterly unexpected connection.

Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation by Steven Johnson (Read by Eric Singer)

Steven Johnson talks about " the adjacent possible."  I love that idea.  One little idea -- like Sony's idea of making a tape player small enough to carry around and listen to a few tapes -- open an "adjacent possible" that led to the iPod.

Finding those links, identifying the adjacent possibles of an idea, it turns out, involves a bit of messiness.  Johnson uses examples of everything from open source software to open office systems for product development to demonstrate the importance of unexpected connections and the value of sharing.

Johnson also values the chaotic creative space of a free-flowing journal.  He says that in the 17th and 18th century, people read books in fits and starts and could be jerking their ways through several books at a time.  Virtually all educated men (and presumably women) kept a "common place book" where they made notes and recorded insights. 
Alexander Pope even devised a rather obscure, but nonetheless popular system for creating a flexible index to keep track of his scattered notes.

From the resulting jumble and juxtaposition of notes from various books and ideas, the diarists were able to make new connections.  Johnson says they more or less re-created and re-configured the ideas they read about and studied.

A notebook is also an important way to keep track of hunches.  Sometimes, he says, a hunch evolves over years.  It is something you come back to every now and then maybe from slightly different perspectives until the hunch gels - maybe because it ended up on a page with the one thing needed to complete the thought and make it whole.

Work Like DaVinci: Gaining the Creative Advantage in Your Business and Career, by Michael J.Gelb and read by the author.

Michael Gelb uses DaVinci's notebooks to identify seven principles that he claims contributed to DaVinci's genius.  For better or worse, he names the principles in Italian. If you speak Italian, that is probably okay, but it is a little gimmicky.  On the other hand, the ideas in the book are actually useful and that puts the book ahead of the field for most of the self-help-personal-growth genre. 

One of the best ideas is simply to do the obvious thing that DaVinci did.  He kept a journal.  This is not the diary kind of journal or even the "morning pages" Julia Cameron made popular a few years ago.  This is random, disorganized, free-flowing notes of thoughts, lists (even shopping lists), reminders, sketches, and anything else you can coax out of a pen. 

It is a kind of mind map (a term coined by Tony Buzon) of just about everything.  The idea is that this kind of spontaneous, disorganized flow allows ideas and insights and plans and inventions and everything else to hook up with each other in new ways.

Taken together, these books offer some interesting ideas about creativity and productivity.  For a couple of bucks, you can get a notebook and start keeping notes -- on ideas, books, movies, something that is happening, your feelings, something you read,  your shopping list or your to do list.  It's a beginning. 

Then, go back and look it over at least once a week.  And be willing to be surprised by where you have been, what you trigger, and what you find.  You may just discover your next great idea lurking there.

1 comment:

  1. The use of book covers, in color, is an improvement that is great.
    I recently read One Day by David Nicholls. It had been favorably reviewed but to me it was a waste of time. I just kept reading assuming it had to get better, it didn't.