Two of the last questions we ask you in the Edison Nation submission form are:
“Do you remember when you came up with your invention idea?”
“Where were you when you came up with your invention?”
Believe me, we’ve seen any and all answers to these questions (there are no surprises anymore)… but there are two answers that we hear most often…
“I was in the shower.”
“I woke up from a dream.”
Have you ever wondered why that is? Well, this is your chance to find out… For this Inventing 101, we’re going to talk about IDEA INCUBATION.
According to Webster’s Dictionary, the term incubate means: to cause or aid the development of…
Further, according to the article, “Incubation in Problem Solving as a Context Effect” by Rachel Seabrook and Zoltan Dienes, idea 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. Incubation is related to intuition and insight in that it is the unconscious part of a process whereby an intuition may become validated as an insight. Incubation substantially increases the odds of solving a problem, and benefits from long incubation periods with low cognitive workloads.
The experience of leaving a problem for a period of time, then finding the difficulty evaporates on returning to the problem, or even more striking, that the solution “comes out of the blue”, when thinking about something else, is widespread.
According to psychoanalyst Carl Jung, our dreams can function on many different levels, from telling us which parts of our psyche are out of balance to anticipating our future needs. He also believed that most dreams operated on the level of stories, myths and archetypes — making them a wonderful source of ideas and inspiration.
Here are 11 people that wouldn’t argue with Jung, and the ideas emerged from their dreams:
John Cameron – The Terminator
Paul McCartney – Yesterday
Mary Shelley – Frankenstein’s Monster
Robert Lewis Stevenson – Jekyll & Hyde
Stephanie Meyer – Twilight (don’t judge, I didn’t make up this list!)
HP Lovecraft – The Necronomicon
Dmitry Mendeleyev – The Periodic Table
Jack Nicklaus – Golf Swing
Elias Howe – The Sewing Machine Needle
Dr. James Watson – Structure of DNA
Stephen King – Misery
So what actually happens when our brains are relaxed enough to spark these ideas?
In his post entitled “Why we have our best ideas in the shower: The Science of Creativity,” blogger, Leo Widich, investigated further…
So, what is actually active in our brain when we are doing something creatively? That’s always been extremely hard to track as creativity has always been considered a very vague activity.
Widrich goes on to note three key elements that lead to creativity and tapping idea incubation: The presence of dopamine in the brain, a form of distraction and a state of relaxation.
He cites the research of Alice Flaherty, one of the most renowned neuroscientists researching creativity, on the presence of dopamine in the brain. She found that the more dopamine that is released, the more creative we are. Typical triggers for events that make us feel great and relaxed and therefore give us an increased dopamine flow are taking a warm shower, exercising, driving home, etc.
But, that’s not all there is to it. Another crucial factor is a distraction, says Harvard researcher and psychologist Shelley H. Carson:
…a distraction may provide the break you need to disengage from a fixation on the ineffective solution.
Hence, the ideas sparking after a period of sleep, or following a shower…
If you have thought long and hard all day about a problem, jumping into the shower can turn into what scientists can trigger the “incubation period” for your ideas. The subconscious mind has been working extremely hard to solve the problems you face and now that you let your mind wander, it can surface and plant those ideas into your conscious mind.
Lastly, after you have received an influx in dopamine, can be easily distracted by an extremely habitual task like showering or cooking, a relaxed state of mind is absolutely important to be creative, says author, Jonah Lehrer:
When our minds are at ease–when those alpha waves are rippling through the brain–we’re more likely to direct the spotlight of attention inward, toward that stream of remote associations emanating from the right hemisphere. In contrast, when we are diligently focused, our attention tends to be directed outward, toward the details of the problems we’re trying to solve…It’s not until we’re being massaged by warm water, unable to check our e-mail, that we’re finally able to hear the quiet voices in the backs of our heads telling us about the insight. The answers have been there all along–we just weren’t listening.
What are some ways to bring on your next big idea? Here some techniques outlined by Geoffrey James for Inc.
- Believe that a breakthrough is always possible.
The mere fact that you’re seeking a breakthrough means that your brain is capable of creating one. Your “sense” that something is wrong or that something can be handled more creatively is a certain sign your brain is ready to deliver the goods.
- Release the “what” and the “how.”
The “what” is the goal you’re seeking, such as a creative solution to a problem or a great idea for a new product. The “how” consists of ways that you’ve sought to achieve those goals in the past.
- Vividly imagine the “why.”
Set aside three minutes of alone time, twice a day, for three days. Close your eyes and imagine yourself experiencing the emotional state that you’ll feel when you’re on the other side, after having a breakthrough.
Imagine what you’re seeing. Imagine what you’re hearing. Imagine how your body feels. Make it as real as possible, because this exercise inspires your brain to generate the breakthrough.
- Embrace the unfamiliar.
A major reason you’re in a rut (and thus need a breakthrough) is that your brain associates your surroundings with all the stuff you’ve done and the thoughts you’ve had in the past. You must therefore get yourself out of the physical location where you feel comfortable and into someplace that lacks associations. This can be anywhere that you can sit and think without being interrupted. Similarly, the tools you use at work–your computer or your tablet–also encourage you to follow well-worn lines of thought. Shake things up. Rather than depending upon your tablet, pull out pencil and paper.
- Jot down everything.
Reimagine your “why,” then write down everything that pops into your mind about how to get to the “why,” even if it’s not the “what” that you’d thought you wanted. This is beneficial for two reasons:
- First, here are no personalities involved, other than your own. You don’t have to worry if you come up with “dumb” ideas because, well, you’re the only one who will know that they’re dumb.
- Second, and more important, your “why” motivation is individual to you, rather than diffused among multiple people with multiple agendas. Because it’s personal, it can more easily pull down the barriers to create the breakthrough.
Hopefully this week’s post provided some insights and suggestions for you to come up with your next…