Ideas are out there 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, 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” in his book Where Good Ideas Come From. Johnson explains that what’s possible at any certain, specific, point in time changes depending on the circumstances around it. The iPhone was only possible ten years ago because everything it took to make it exist finally aligned. You couldn’t have invented the microwave 5,000 years ago, it would have been impossible to contemplate let alone imagine. The same goes for computers, televisions, radios, gaming consoles, and so on.
Once the technologies behind each idea became available, the ideas readily race toward existence. Even now, as you read this, there are ideas waiting to be not constructed or imagined, but simply found. Like pieces to a puzzle that has yet to be put together.
Ideas merely 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.
In her book Big Magic, the brilliant writer Elizabeth Gilbert refers to this desire for ideas to exist as simply: muse. Ideas want to feel wanted. Gilbert says ideas will wait for you, like a stranger visiting your home, until you welcome them in. She writes:
“I believe that our planet is inhabited not only by animals and plants and bacteria and viruses, but also by ideas. Ideas are a disembodied, energetic life-form. They are completely separate from us, but capable of interacting with us—albeit strangely. Ideas have no material body, but they do have consciousness, and they most certainly have will. Ideas are driven by a single impulse: to be made manifest. And the only way an idea can be made manifest in our world is through collaboration with a human partner. It is only through a human’s efforts that an idea can be escorted out of the ether and into the realm of the actual.”
Your job as someone who creates and tinkers and ruminates is simply to make room for 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. One way is simply to ask a lot of questions. qQuestions 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.