How do people get new ideas? Isaac Asimov on creativity #TBT

Photo from hilobrow.com

Photo from hilobrow.com

In this never-before published essay, Isaac Asimov addresses the question How do people get new ideas?. While the 1959 language seems quaint (and rather male!) the thoughts he puts forward are still relevant today and the subject of this week’s #throwbackthursday post.

So, what is needed to generate new ideas according to Asimov?

  • The ability to connect seemingly unrelated ideas together and then the answer seems obvious!
  • An idea that, at first, seems unreasonable
  • A good background in the field coupled with a slight eccentricity, a sense of self-assuredness and confidence
  • Isolation – creativity can be an “embarrassing process”
  • Small group brainstorm – no more than five people as group dynamics can kill creativity
  • A good facilitator who acts more like a therapist than a leader
  • Great ideas usually don’t come from those paid to think them up – ‘… great ideas [come] as side issues’

While I have had good success with larger groups (especially the recent #warshipbootcamp held at the ANMM) it was the bringing together of like-minded, curious people, presenting them with a challenge and giving them the freedom to run amok (!) that worked really well in that process.

Finally he concluded that:

‘As for “gadgets” designed to elicit creativity, I think these should arise out of the bull sessions themselves. If thoroughly relaxed, free of responsibility, discussing something of interest, and being by nature unconventional, the participants themselves will create devices to stimulate discussion.’

Interestingly museum staff have many of the characteristics cited above, yet how successful are we at generating new ideas, and then taking them forward??

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