Steven Johnson’s New Book, Where Good Ideas Come From Inspires a New Site: SlowHunch.com

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.”

Enter SlowHunch.com

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.

17 FEEDBACKS

  1. Can’t wait.

    For the “storehouse” function, I imagine each user with have a space that collects all her hunches?

    \-\/\/

  2. Chris Whamond says:

    Thanks for the input, Howard. Yes. I think users should have a simple way to enter hunches with a tab that shows all their hunches (say, 10 at a time).

    I’m sorta stuck on whether the hunch should start with a “category” which allows people to add their own hunches below (like a blog post with comments) or to have a more non-linear structure, with hunches via “tags”. Maybe I’ll work up the initial UI with both options and we’ll all vote on what we think is best. What do you think?

  3. Jason Klug says:

    Great idea… I’d subscribe to an app like this ; )

    I’m reading “Where Good Ideas Come From” right now, and (following the themes/logic set up in the book) it seems like having categories would be fine, so long as it doesn’t create an artificial silo of information. All of the info needs to be, from the DB’s standpoint, equal. A slurry, so to speak.

  4. Chris Whamond says:

    Great point, Jason. I’m talking with another dev right now and he likes the idea of tagging and NO categories. So far, we’re both leaning towards a non-linear model. But that’s just a first hunch. We should have the first iteration of the site up next week and everybody can join in. Thanks for checking it out.

  5. In a way, a “raw and barebones” version has been done here:
    http://havealaunch.com

    It includes itself as a posted idea:
    http://havealaunch.com/projects/havealaunch.action

    It has been just started – you could contact them.

  6. Chris Whamond says:

    Nice resource. I’ll have to check this out in more detail. Thanks, Antonio!

  7. As I’m reading my hardback “Where Good Ideas Come From,” I’m missing Diigo: the ability to highlight, annotate and share. This morning there were passages I wanted to underscore and I thought, ugh, do I really have to find post-it notes and a pencil? And then type it?!?

    The #goodideas snippets on Twitter are OK, but they vanish; unless, as Scott Rosenburg suggests, one links Twitter to one’s FB profile then export the data from there. I want to keep my FB and Twitter discrete, so I need something else to be my commonplace book. Twitter IS my defacto commonplace book.

    Love the idea of my commonplace book mingling with others’. Happy to share, collaborate, learn (and listen, as I’m doing rt now to “Deep House Mix” on your soundcloud profile–my soundtrack of rt now. Fantastic.)

    In terms of UI and data org, I like Diigo. How would slowhunch be different from that? Organizing by tags rather than categories would allow ideas’ DNA to recombine more randomly. Diigo offers suggestions for tags, which I almost never take; but if slowhunch were orgd primarily by tag, maybe this would be a more useful or important feature? Would that be hard to create, suggested tags? I’m not a designer.

    It would also be good to search by date/most recent.

    I would subscribe to slowhunch. I hope you get this off the ground so I can play!

  8. Aaron says:

    Awesome. I cannot wait to be a part of this community. It is a real eye opener to not think of ideas as an epiphany but something that takes real time to develop.

  9. Howard Weaver says:

    Well, my *fast hunch* is that a non-linear structure seems with subsequent recombination capacity might be most productive. Doesn’t have to be either/or, either.

  10. Hi Chris, I love any idea and initiative that tries to promote innovation, and can’t wait to see your app in action.
    There’s so much need of innovation, especially in big companies, public administration, and “old” markets like healthcare, retail, manufacturing.
    As Antonio noted, I also just started a very small initiative to do something about that (http://havealaunch.com); my angle is a bit different though: I believe that brilliant ideas are everywhere, and I see them weekly while meeting with entrepreneurs, developers, startup enthusiasts.

    What I also see is that many of these ideas are wasted for lack of resources, skills, team mates, patience, focus. That’s the problem for me. Ideas need to be launched and tested in the real market, to prove/disprove their value. That’s the issue I’d like to tackle. How do we build a framework for creative people so that they can be helped to go from the idea to the final product?

    let me know what do you think about that!

  11. Chris Whamond says:

    @Kathi – I can see how Twitter could serve as a commonplace book. Sometimes I’ll tweet something (a link, URL, etc.) simply because I want to remember it. But I agree: tweets feel “fleeting” to me, since they’re organized around a timeline. I wasn’t familiar with Diigo – I really like the “highlighting” feature!

    I think tagging is a good place to start for slowhunch. Here’s why:

    1.) It allows a LOT flexibility
    2.) Most web users understand tagging
    3.) Tagging enables quick links between different hunches (for example, tag a hunch as “Headline” and you instantly enter your hunch into the universe of Headline tags. You see somebody else’s headline hunch and follow the other tags associated with it. Serendipity.

    On a development level, enabling tagging is easy. No big development hump to overcome there.

    @Filippo – I totally agree that one of the big benefits of collecting ideas is the ability to test their market viability and push them towards fruition.

    This concept is actually what sparked this slow hunch for me. I read this blog post by Seth Godin and thought to myself: “There isn’t a way for non-developers to suggest an app idea and push it forward”. But that has remained a slow hunch for a few months.

    I really think the same principles of idea generation, iterative process and upvoting can work for any idea. Which is why Slowhunch.com is better. It should be a platform that works for any type of idea.

    Maybe we’ll add that as a hunch to this project and see what people think.

    I’m busy getting the first barebones site up and running – it should be live by Wednesday and I’ll tweet from my SlowHunch account (and #goodideas) once it is! Thanks!

  12. RedMango says:

    Very nice post!

  13. This is pretty interesting! I just watched the TED talk and took away a few things: I feel like the phrase “unpredictable collisions” is important to this idea. Tagging is probably the best way to categorize things, but you wouldn’t want to miss out on a category because you only see your idea in a certain way. Perhaps other users would see your hunch as being applicable to a different category. Could other users add tags to your hunches?

    I also like the Coffeehouse idea – what if you could join a network (a “Coffeehouse”) that is working on a specific set of hunches that are related. It’s sort of the “weekly conference meeting” that Johnson was talking about. Maybe the hunches that get upvoted turn into these networks for more intense idea/brainstorming?

    And I’m not entirely clear – can people make comments on hunches? How would a hunch get more developed / more sophisticated? Is it sort of a wiki model where other users can edit the hunch, or is it up to the original person who posted the hunch?

  14. Chris Whamond says:

    @Kinnon – thanks for the feedback. I agree: happy accidents are key. I hadn’t thought about other users tagging your hunch. Hmm. That’s an interesting concept.

    Love the coffeehouse idea. Groups can “split off” based on a hunch or a topic. I have no clue how we’d do that, however.

    And yes, right now people can comment on hunches – this is where they add their idea to the original hunch. I’m leaning towards the original hunch being non-editable (Reddit-style) to preserve the original hunch itself. I think the comments and replies could help shape it rather than directly editing the hunch itself. But who knows. We’ll have to crowdsource this idea, too!

    I’ll let you know when Version 1.0 launches. Thanks!

  15. Andreas says:

    Hi Chris. Found my way here when researching a blog post of my own inspired by Where Good Ideas Come From. I was wondering if I could use your iPad/Commonplace book picture in my post? It’s exactly what I was looking for. I would, of course, provide the usual credits. Cheers.

  16. […] to Chris Hammond for letting me use his […]

  17. Thaddeus says:

    Hey Chris, Great site. Like the “Coffeeshop” idea posted above, and was wondering if you could/should also add a “Randomizer” feature that users can click to randomly link ideas from different unrelated “sets”. This would add a level of chaotic linking which might instigate new lines of thought.

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