How New Ideas Arise

The Port of Saint-Tropez, Paul Signac, 1901 - 1902

The Port of Saint-Tropez, Paul Signac, 1901 - 1902

Paolo Belardi - MIT Press, author of Why Architects Still Draw lists a few of the always-present conditions of inventive genesis as he describes, in other words, the many ways new ideas arise.

Ideas can arise:

  1. from fortuitous circumstances
    • Charles Didelot, maĂ®tre de ballet and choreographer, experimented with the en pointe (tiptoe) ballet position just before a mechanical system lifted the prima ballerina, the dancer being hooked through multiple wires, gave the illusion of weightlessness.
  2. from observations outside of their specific field
    • Francis Crick and James Watson, who in 1953 discovered DNA’s double helix structure intuited the shape in a Cambridge cinema room while watching a scene in Robert Siodmak’s "The Spiral Staircase" in which the camera was held above a spiral staircase, exaggerating its cyclical shape.
  3. in the most disparate places
    • Roland Barthes: train > airplanes for invention
    • French anthropologist Marc AugĂ©: bicycle for concentrating and having new ideas
    • Virginia Wolf: hot bath for novel plots
    • Wayne Silby: isolation for sensorial deprivation to solve financial problems
  4. at any moment
    • Wassily Kandinsky paints only during the day and with incredible regularity
    • HonorĂ© de Balzac composes with a clear mind at sunrise
    • Antoine Lavoisier preferred to work at night
  5. from boredom
    • During a film conference in Assisi in 1962, Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini got bored and started flipping the Gospel of Matthew
    • struck by how the farmer in the age of Christ presented both religious fervor and its realistic brutality
    • inspired revolutionary shots of his films "La ricotta" and "Il Vangelo secondo Matteo."
  6. from oversights
    • Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry, in "The Wisdom of the Sands" talks about fertile mistakes:

      creation sometimes being a misstep, sort of like hitting the chisel wrong on the stone, but with a positive (if unexpected) result.

    • Alberto Savinio: importance of the misprint as bearer of the unexpected, encouraging others to give what seemed like an error a second chance, as some of them turn out successful
  7. from habit
    • Immanuel Kant’s philosophic speculations were written at mechanical times and with ritual gestures.
  8. from necessity
    • Jacob Schick, bedridden because of a twisted ankle while stationed in Alaska, took a patent out on the first electric razor
  9. serendipity
    • Accidental discovery of penicillin by Alexander Fleming
    • In 1978, American astronomer James Christy while observing Pluto’s orbit, noticed the elongation of the Pluto in all its image, and noticed what no one else had before: Pluto had a moon.
  10. dreams
    • chemist Friedrich August KekulĂ© von Stradonitz in the mid 19th century, researched on the structural form of benzene so intensely he had dreams where atoms would gambol in before his eyes

You can keep going , but it's not practical.

The ways enlightenment arises — a hybrid mix of intentions, chance, and attentions — elude every form of cataloging

Andy Warhol suggested, "ideas are in the air," viral elements ready to be assimilated by the most sensitive souls

Louis Pasteur used to admonish his students, "Fortune favors the mind that is prepared," to which Daniel Goleman added, "and passionate."

Erwin Schrödinger, the 1933 Nobel Prize winner in physics and the father of wave mechanics, wrote in his diary: "I have never had a good idea without having a new girlfriend, too."