One of the theoretical four stages of creativity (along with preparation, illumination, and verification), incubation is defined as “a process of unconscious recombination of thought elements that were stimulated through conscious work at one point in time, resulting in novel ideas at some later point in time.” (Wikipedia)
The photo is John Dabiri, a Professor of Aeronautics and Bioengineering at Caltech, who was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship last year for his work that “draws on a wide range of fields—including theoretical fluid dynamics, evolutionary biology, and biomechanics—to unravel the secrets of one of the earliest means of animal locomotion,” according to a profile on the MacArthur site.
The bio notes, “Dabiri’s research has profound implications not only for understanding the evolution and biophysics of locomotion in jellyfish and other aquatic animals, but also for a host of distantly related questions and applications in fluid dynamics, from blood flow in the human heart to the design of wind power generators.”
The Connected Mind
That profile reminds me of creativity researcher Shelley Carson’s idea of ‘brain set’ as a take-off on ‘mind set’ in her book Your Creative Brain, particularly the ‘Connect’ brain set.
She explains that “in this brain set you are generating multiple ideas, you’ve activated numerous associational networks in the brain and one idea seems to lead to another to another to another.”
From my post Shelley Carson on Brainsets and Creativity.
In a post on his blog about his book “Where Good Ideas Come From,” Steven Johnson notes part of why he wrote it was “to grapple with the question of why certain environments seem to be disproportionately skilled at generating and sharing good ideas.”
In the book he considers “human environments that have been unusually generative: the architecture of successful science labs, the information networks of the Web or the Enlightenment-era postal system, the public spaces of metropolitan cities, even the notebooks of great thinkers.”
In addition, he also looks at “natural environments that have been biologically innovative: the coral reef and the rain forest, or the chemical soups that first gave birth to life’s good idea.”
The book has dozens of stories about incubating creativity “from the history of scientific, technological and cultural innovation,” including how Darwin’s “eureka moment” about natural selection “turned out to be a myth; how Brian Eno invented a new musical convention by listening to too much AM radio; how Gutenberg borrowed a crucial idea from the wine industry to invent modern printing; why GPS was accidentally developed by a pair of twenty-somethings messing around with a microwave receiver.”
His post: Where Good Ideas Come From.
Book: Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation by Steven Johnson.
These videos are also in the post Steven Johnson on Where Good Ideas Come From, by Maria Popova on her excellent blog Brain Pickings.
Sparks of creative genius are rare
In his interview article Steven Johnson: ‘Eureka moments are very, very rare’ (The Guardian 19 October 2010), Oliver Burkeman comments on the book and notes that Johnson thinks good ideas “are built out of a collection of existing parts”, both literally and metaphorically speaking.
Burkeman concludes, ‘What all this means, in practical terms, is that the best way to encourage (or to have) new ideas isn’t to fetishise the “spark of genius”, to retreat to a mountain cabin in order to “be creative”, or to blabber interminably about “blue-sky”, “out-of-the-box” thinking.
‘Rather, it’s to expand the range of your possible next moves – the perimeter of your potential – by exposing yourself to as much serendipity, as much argument and conversation, as many rival and related ideas as possible; to borrow, to repurpose, to recombine.’
He adds, ‘This is one way of explaining the creativity generated by cities, by Europe’s 17th-century coffee-houses, and by the internet. Good ideas happen in networks; in one rather brain-bending sense, you could even say that “good ideas are networks”. Or as Johnson also puts it: “Chance favours the connected mind.”‘
But creatively connected doesn’t mean endlessly stuffing ourselves with sensory and cognitive input.
As author and intuition consultant Nancy Rosanoff notes, “Because our culture bombards us from every side to keep busy, we really do have to make an active effort to do nothing.”
Rosanoff suggests encouraging the incubation period of the creative process by finding activities that will “take your mind off the problem: “Take a day off, get some exercise, cook a nice meal. In addition, there are some things you can do to help access your intuitive side: playing an instrument, meditating, doing yoga, and yes, even sleeping. You can’t force an illumination; don’t even try.”
Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of Coming to Our Senses, points out there is a “commonly held view that meditation is a way to shut off the pressures of the world or of your own mind, but this is not an accurate impression.
“Meditation is neither shutting things out nor off. It is seeing clearly, and deliberately positioning yourself differently in relationship to them.”
From my post Living more fully without so much inner static.
Also see articles on Meditation and mindfulness.
The image is from article: Centerpointe Research Institute mental fitness technology.