Thursday, March 04, 2010


A group of people sitting around a table trying hard to come up with a good and/or original idea for something. Be it for a play, poster, video, song, or any other art related thing, a group of people can spend hours, frowning at the table, inspecting the ceiling and exploring the contents of various pockets and orifices with no solution. And most of them will be looking at one particular member of the group, the one they think of the Creative One. Let’s call him Simon.

Each person round the table is thinking, “Simon will come up with something soon.” So they relax, and not commit themselves. On the other hand, as creative as Simon may be, he can’t come up with brilliant ideas every time he’s asked to, plus, Simon has had a long day, is feeling a bit ill and is not interested in the subject being discussed anyway.

There a few people, then, who know that Simon is usually the one to come up with the good ideas, and wants, due to a competitive drive, beat him to it this time. And it would be Simon’s pleasure if for once he doesn’t have to think.

But this is besides my point, my point is that although a meeting is held especially to come up with an idea, no idea can be formed by the end of it. And then the next day, while Simon is in the shower thinking about showery things, like soap and water and so on, out of nowhere, an brilliant, and usually obvious idea pops into his head regarding the point of the meeting the night before.

What the hell?

There are two points I want to explore.

First, How come it is Simon to get the sudden idea?

Second, Why does the idea pop up when Simon isn’t thinking about it?

Psychologists may have some reason behind the second question, involving concepts such as the unconscious and so on, and may even be able to answer the first, but personally I like the way Terry Pratchett describes it in his Discworld series.

He says that ideas are, well, independent objects, flying around the world and universe on their own, looking for the ideal brain for them to develop and grow in. When an idea finds such a brain, it heads for it and thus an idea is had. (I’m not sure one can say ‘an idea is had’ but it makes sense in my head as one ‘has an idea’, so ‘an idea is had’. Anyway, bad grammar never bothered me.) Now some people’s brain seem to be some sort of magnet to ideas, and therefore you get the Simon’s of the world.

But, why in the shower, or at bed late at night, or on the bus?

For the answer to this question, I’m going to Sheldon Cooper from ‘The Big Bang Theory’ who mentions a study which shows that when doing jobs that require less mental thought and are made up of routine and a lot of repetition, certain parts of the brain which are used to come up with ideas and think about stuff, are free to work.

So that answers that-ish.

And now I have a poster to design. So I’m going to take a shower.

Water, water, soap, scrub, rub….




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