Ideas simply want a place to fit

The only thing ideas want is to fit.

Ideas are out there in the world, waiting to be captured or imagined. They travel around us in all different sorts of ways: from communication to entertainment to dreams. All ideas want is to find a place to fit, to exist. There may be ideas that have been trying to fit for a very long time, it’s only when things are right and ready can the ideas fit into place, into existence.

Steven Johnson calls this need to fit “the adjacent possible.” He explains in his book—Where Good Ideas Come From—that what’s possible at any certain, specific, point in time changes depending on the circumstances around it. Ideas are a result of what’s possible. The iPhone was only possible ten years ago because everything it took to make it feasible had finally aligned. You couldn’t have invented the microwave 5,000 years ago, it would have been impossible to contemplate let alone imagine.

But once the technologies behind each idea became available, the ideas readily raced toward existence. Even now, as you read this, there are ideas waiting to be not constructed or imagined, but simply found.

Ideas want to exist. But if there’s nowhere for an idea to go, if you’re not looking for it—to help find a place for it to fit—it moves along. Ideas desire to fit in somewhere.

The brilliant writer Elizabeth Gilbert refers to this desire as a muse, wanting to feel wanted. She says ideas will wait for you, like a stranger visiting your home, until you welcome them in.

Your job is to make room for the ideas to fit. To understand where they might come from and then open yourselves to them. If ideas want to exist, it’s your job as a creative thinker to help them do it. One way is simply to ask a lot of questions. If anything: questions create a place for answers to fit.

Clayton Christensen, Harvard teacher and author, explains: “Questions are places in your mind where answers fit. If you haven’t asked the question, the answer has nowhere to go. It hits your mind and bounces right off. You have to ask the question — you have to want to know — in order to open up the space for the answer to fit.”

Ideas want to exist, you have to create a space for them to fit. Asking a lot of questions, being open to new experiences, and freeing-up your mind, are how you’re going to do it.