This lesson will teach you why ideas don’t often happen like they do in the movies—with someone bolting upright in their bed in the middle of the night or screaming “Eureka!” in the shower. Okay, some ideas do actually arrive like that, but you’ll see that they’re not as “instantaneous” as they may seem.
Ideas Often Begin as Hunches
Charles Darwin traveled around the world aboard the ship, The Beagle. He made many stops, observed many different environments, and wrote diligently about his experiences and thoughts. When he “discovered” the idea of evolution and survival of the fittest, it was not a sudden idea by any stretch of the imagination; it was something he had been pondering and dancing around for years. What began as a hunch finally took form as a more developed idea.
A hunch is a feeling or guess based more on intuition rather than facts. It’s that feeling when we know there must be a solution out there, but we haven’t quite found it yet.
Many people who study ideation and creativity agree that many ideas begin as hunches. For nearly all intents and purposes, hunches are ideas—just immature, undeveloped ones.
A hunch can come from many places. Most times, it’s evident that an idea must exist, like when science demands an explanation for something. Sometimes, hunches come from problems that just won’t go away, and sometimes, they come from curiosity and the inability to let something go because it’s just too interesting.
How to Nourish Hunches
So, you have a hunch. Now what? Hunches need nourishment: time, attention, and energy. There are few shortcuts or “hacks” available here—you have to actually put in the time—but I will share two specific actions that are great for nourishing hunches:
1. Write them down. Writing down your hunches is a method of processing your thinking; it forces you to take what’s in your mind and ascribe actual words to it. Don’t feel too much pressure here—this does not have to be award-winning writing.
2. Share them. This can be extremely frightening. You may worry that people won’t understand your hunch, they might think you’re stupid, or they might steal your burgeoning idea. Overcoming this fear is not easy, but the benefits to sharing—feedback and outside perspectives—can be enormously helpful.
Ideas Take Time
It’s important to understand that ideas don’t just pop into being. This is especially important if you’re an impatient person and want your good idea to happen now!
If you don’t appreciate that ideas need time to “fade into focus,” as Steven Johnson describes, you’re likely to abandon your hunches much too early. Give yourself permission to think about something for days, weeks, months, and even years.
In summary, try to keep in mind that ideas usually arrive as hunches and only become more fully-formed after a fair amount of time, energy, and attention. If nothing else, this should give you resolve to stick to your hunches long enough for them to blossom into ideas.
Next lesson, we’ll talk about serendipity and how some ideas arrive by sheer good fortune.
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