Charles Darwin was an ideas management superstar. It took years and even made him ill but he persisted and using the Commonplace Book system developed his BIG ideas slowly. They arguably had more time in those days but how Darwin did it wasn’t magic – it was systematic and controlled.
I found myself re-reading the exceptional and inspiring book ‘Where good Ideas Come From’ by Steven Johnson again and wanted to share a passage about the benefits of rigorous note making in idea development:
‘We can track the evolution of Darwin’s ideas with such precision because he adhered to a rigorous practice of maintaining notebooks where he quoted other sources, improvised new ideas, interrogated and dismissed false leads, drew diagrams, and generally let his mind roam the page.
We can see Darwin’s ideas evolve because on some basic level the notebook platform creates a cultivating space for his hunches; it is not that the notebook is a mere transcription of the ideas, which are happening offstage somewhere in Darwin’s mind.
Darwin was constantly rereading his notes, discovering new implications. His ideas emerge as a kind of duet between the present-tense thinking of his brain and all those past observations recorded on paper.
Darwin’s notebooks lie at the tail end of a long and fruitful tradition that peaked in Enlightenment-era Europe, particularly in England: the practice of maintaining a “commonplace” book. Scholars, amateur scientists, aspiring men of letters – just about anyone with intellectual ambition in the seventeenth and Eighteenth centuries was likely to keep a commonplace book. The great minds of the period – Milton, Bacon, Locke – were zealous believers in the memory-enhancing powers of the commonplace book. In its most customary form, “commonplacing” as it was called, involved transcribing interesting or inspirational passages from ones reading, assembling a personalized encyclopedia of quotations. ‘
We often laugh off and dismiss thoughts and ideas when we are in different contexts thinking they are rubbish or irrelevant. But somehow every thought can lead to a new thought and could later be re-worked to be a better thought. Improving how we manage hunches as creatives is a key to being better at making better, more relevant work. We now have access to visual information more readily too, snapping pics and having an immense array of visual imagery available at our fingertips online.
How does a modern artist and creative mastermind great ideas and then work out how to monetize them? It’s a matter of process. Firstly do not worry at all about monetizing your work. The priority plan is to get new and diverse ideas progressing to a stage where real projects start to form into a more cohesive concept that you are really excited about.
Gather your research, look at what others are doing and collect what inspires you carefully. making notes about why. Constantly refer back and forth to all these thoughts and writings. it will take a long time and you will go back and forth but slowly ideas will form, and you can then push these initial ideas further by employing some creative thinking.
Creative people naturally (excuse pun) build ideas like Darwin did, by gathering and building inspiration from what we see around that fascinates us and what we read. Innovation is valuable and how we innovate depends on how well we are harnessing our thoughts and connecting them up to build a potential project idea.
Once you have the project idea I have found the best thing to do is talk about it to professionals. Who do you know that is a commissioner, consultant or curator that you can safely disclose your thoughts to? Share the idea. Share all of it and see what comes back. There are people out there far more qualified to work out how to earn money from your work than you!
MyIdeasBook was inspired by the commonplace book system but tweaked to be an online tool for visually creative people. How creatives manage ideas is crucial to how they evolve. The reason we need to evolve the way we develop our creative work is because the world around us has changed. The way we created before the internet age may not be as effective as it once was.so By linking up what we are working through on paper to online images and websites and text in a systematic ‘thinking zone’ is a key to moving our creativity to a new height of innovation.
Have you got a system like the commonplace book or do you use a sketchbook still?
Do you write a lot down and then never read it again or do you continually refer to it?
Does the way Darwin and co. kept commonplace books inspire you?
If you like the sound of getting more strategic in your ideas making and treating yourself to a well designed, private place on the web you can get a trial of MyIdeasBook here.