Where do the best ideas come from?

“When the time is ripe for certain things, they appear at different places in the manner of violets coming to light in early spring.” – Farkas Bolyai.

Every great idea stems from some source of inspiration.

When something you’ve seen or experienced in the past is mentally ‒ often subconsciously ‒ connected with something from the present, that’s when the best ideas take shape. This process explains nearly all of the things we surround ourselves with today, from airplanes and cell phones, to the food we eat and the books we read.

Without these sudden “sparks of insight,” where two or more ideas are connected, innovation wouldn’t be possible.

Everything worthwhile has been, at some point, inspired in-part by something else.

With this knowledge we see that a shortcut to the formation of great ideas is the ability to access seemingly unrelated connections between two or more things quickly. The best way to make those connections rapidly is simple: produce ideas in a small group.

Discussing ideas and topics, even seemingly unrelated ones, in a small group of people is often all it takes to spark a great idea. As authors Kevin Kelly and Steven Johnson discussed in their 2010 Wired interview: “We normally think of innovators as independent geniuses, but [the] point is that innovation comes from social scenes, from passionate and connected groups of people.”

If all it takes to really press an idea forward is the right spark of inspiration, then having a varied group of people all discussion things that inspired them in the past could be all you need to come up with your next, great idea.

Try working in a group today, encouraging everyone to share their views and talk about what’s inspired them in the past. You’ll find that the best ideas tend to come from group discussions (though, sometimes the best ideas only make themselves visible after the discussion has ended).

Image source: Geof Oppenheimer via Ratio 3.