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Where does innovation come from?

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I have been thinking a lot about the creative process lately. About how important it is for me to not go through it alone, how I flourish in a team environment where like-minded people are pushing toward a common goal.  This is why I love directing a troupe–not just because I prefer dancing synchronously with others and the aesthetics of group performance, but because I prefer the process of creation more when I share it with others. Even now when I am not myself performing, directing my student troupe, sharing our ideas and combining all of our energies to create a performance is such a joy.

Bellydance Inspirations

This attitude is what makes online discussions such a valuable part of my creative evolutionary process as an artist.  I feel that engaging in discussion/debate with others–comparing and contrasting my instincts and opinions with others of various backgrounds–strengthens my mental and emotional impulses.  I am better as an individual because I become a combination of ideas and considerations introduced by others. Being challenged by someone who doesn’t share my vision is an opportunity to expand the scope of my understanding, and better hone in on the “how & why” of my own tendencies or opinions.

And it is also why I love to teach workshops and get to travel to bellydance events in other parts of the world.  Being able to teach, to share my ideas, and in return be exposed to so many other attitudes and ideas is so invigorating to me!  To sit over a meal and a glass of wine and geek out over dance stuff is my idea of a perfect evening.  Combine that with some performances, workshops, and lots of laughter, and I come away from it inspired and refreshed.

I recently watched a TEDTalk with Steven Johnson, exploring the idea of “Where good ideas come from.”  What he talks about really reinforced my own experience with the creative process, and how important these words are in my life: connect, communicate, commiserate, community. Below are some quotes I felt particularly moved by, and the full TEDTalk is below that.

“…more often than not, (good ideas) are cobbled together from whatever parts that happened to be around nearby. We take ideas from other people, from people we’ve learned from, from people we run into in the coffee shop, and we stitch them together into new forms and we create something new. That’s really where innovation happens. And that means we have to change some of our models of what innovation and deep thinking looks like…”

He proceeds to show some classical images of “deep thought”, and contrasts them with an image  of what he calls the “liquid network”, which is represented in a classical painting (above) depicting a bunch of people sitting around cluttered tables, drinking, talking, listening, playing music… Basically in a communal space with lots of stimulus and input; but most importantly, with lots of other people (sound like any great bellydance event or festival you have been to?).

He emphasizes that the most important ideas come not from sitting at a table alone (or standing alone in a studio) and having some “Aha!” moment, but instead from gelling together a myriad of opinions and ideas, commiserating with others on the topic or problem, and seeking (solutions) new ideas to move forward with.

“…almost all the important breakthrough ideas did not happen alone in the lab in front of the microscope.  They happened at the conference table at the weekly lab meeting, when everybody got together and shared their kindof latest data and findings, oftentimes when people shared the mistakes they were having, the error, the noise and the signal they were discovering.

And something about that environment, that I started calling the ‘liquid network’–where you have lots of different ideas that are together, different backgrounds different interests, jostling with each other, bouncing off of each other–THAT environment is in fact the environment that leads to innovation.”

He goes on to talk about how great ideas don’t come in a moment, they develop over time, or the “Slow Hunch”; and more than that, that the best ideas happen when two ideas meet:

“The challenge for all of us is how do you create environments that allow these ideas to  (develop over time)? … allow those hunches to connect with other people’s hunches. That’s what often happens. you have half an idea, someone else has the other half, and if you’re in the right environment, they turn into something larger than the sum of their parts.”

His final line is the best:

“Chance favors the connected mind.”


The full TEDTalk is here:

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Shay Moore is the director and primary instructor at Deep Roots Dance in Seattle, WA. She loves writing, movies, costuming, knitting, cooking, and bellydance to the moon and back again; and loves her amazing husband and doggies even more than that.

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