Steven Johnson’s New Book, Where Good Ideas Come From Inspires a New Site: SlowHunch.com
Wednesday, October 13th, 2010
If you do anything with the web – or want to develop more creative ideas – you must rush out and buy Steven Johnson’s new book Where Good Ideas Come From.
One of the central themes of the book is that an idea is a process, not an event.
A great idea, Johnson explains, doesn’t result from a sudden flash of insight or burst of inspiration, but rather, emerges as the result of a slow, evolutionary process. A great idea begins as a “slow hunch” and marinades for a long time. What finally triggers the proverbial “Eureka” moment is when this slow hunch collides with somebody else’s slow hunch and a mature idea finally emerges.
What a concept. Johnson puts forth a contrarian’s viewpoint, backing up his arguments with example after example, from Charles Darwin to double-entry accounting to the events of 9/11.
Here’s a video that reveals the gist of the book:
Pretty profound, isn’t it?
How do you cultivate and nourish your slow hunches? Here’s what he suggests:
“Keeping a slow hunch alive poses challenges on multiple scales. For starters, you have to preserve the hunch in your own memory, in the dense network of your neurons. Most slow hunches pass in and out of our memory too quickly, precisely because they possess a certain murkiness. You get a feeling that there’s an interesting avenue to explore, a problem that might lead you to a solution, but then you get distracted by more pressing matters and the hunch disappears. So part of the secret of hunch cultivation is simple: write everything down.”
I keep what Johnson calls “commonplace books” – Moleskine notebooks filled with random sketchnotes, ideas and code snippets. But the problem is that these books aren’t searchable. There’s no way to cross-reference ideas. Even worse, my slow hunches stay isolated.
The real secret to great ideas is allowing your hunch to connect with other people’s hunches. As Johnson says, “But for that hunch to blossom into something more substantial, it has to connect with other ideas”. This can’t happen if my slow hunches are locked in a book on my desk:
“Hunches that don’t connect are doomed to say hunches….innovation prospers when ideas can serendipitously connect and recombine with other ideas, when hunches can stumble across other hunches. When nature finds itself in need of new ideas, it strives to connect, not protect.”
In a few days, I’ll be launching a new web app called “SlowHunch.com“.
SlowHunch.com will be a free, open database of hunches. A Wikipedia for ideas. It will be an “open environment”; the “fertile soil” where hunches can make new connections.
Johnson himself even seems to suggest this: “…create an open database of hunches, the Web 2.0 version of the traditional suggestion box.”
This will be that database. But what about features? Here’s a short list:
- Users should be able to store hunches quickly and easily. Hunches will be searchable and taggable.
- The site must be accessible from anywhere – mobile as well as web. It must be available to capture slow hunches at all times (“runs in the background”).
- Users will be able to vote on hunches, ideas and suggestions, Reddit-style.
But the differentiating feature of this app is that hunches will connect with each other in surprising and unique ways. This is the key feature – the Web 2.0 juice – behind this app. This is SlowHunch.com’s “raison d’etre”; its reason for existence. Happy accidents and serendipity.
But this is only a direction. It’s my slow hunch. I don’t have all the answers.
Which is where you come in. Where do we start?
Here’s one idea: let’s start with the software itself. Why not use the development of SlowHunch.com as a model for developing other hunches? I believe we should harness our group intelligence to design the software and develop SlowHunch.com together.
The Development of SlowHunch.com Becomes a Model for Developing Other Ideas!
It’s just the first slow hunch that we, as a community, gather around. Which seems appropriate, given its name. To start, we need to answer a few questions:
How do we organize the information? How do we allow hunches to connect? How will the upvoting work? Do we have categories? How do we cross-reference? How much structure – or chaos – do we build into the system?
These are all questions I don’t have an answer to. But it’s a starting point.
What’s my motivation? First, I’ll use SlowHunch.com to develop and refine my other web apps. This is an idea I’ve had for a long time. I’ll add my hunches and allow my users to contribute, add their hunches and upvote new ideas and features for my web apps. This is extremely valuable to me.
Second, I’ll use SlowHunch.com for my writing “storehouse”. I’ll keep copy snippets, headlines, bullet points and quotes inside.
Finally, I’m passionate about the ideas Steven Johnson presented in Where Good Ideas Come From. For me, it’s a transformational book – one that will have a profound and lasting impact on my work and my life.
So join me. I think it will be fun to watch SlowHunch.com develop from a barebones single page into a “seething cauldron of ideas”.
And you never know: you might just stumble across the final piece of your slow hunch months or even years from now in this very software. The software you helped create.
The first iteration will be raw and barebones. Minimal. It will have a way to log in, add a hunch and upvote hunches. Tagging will come next. We can then use this simple system to develop the software further.
Let’s see what happens!
Please add your suggestions in the comments below.