Idea Formation: A Brief Overview of a Surprisingly Intricate Phenomenon


At Collaborate, we have a light fixture comprised of several round lightbulbs projecting outward from a sphere at its center. We have come to adore this light fixture, not only for its visual appeal, but also because it represents who we are and what we believe as a company.

You might be asking, How can a light fixture possibly represent your company? I’ll explain.

Erasing the “Eureka” Moment

The universal symbol for an idea is a single lightbulb, usually accompanied by the expression “Eureka!” Pondering this, I began to ask myself: Is a single lightbulb really the best way to represent an idea?

I decided to do a little research, and I stumbled across Where Good Ideas Come From, an enlightening TED Talk (and book) from Steven Johnson, popular author on science and innovation.  Johnson has thoroughly investigated the formation of good ideas and has studied the environments in which they are developed. I was pleased - yet not totally surprised - to discover that the qualities of environments that breed great ideas flawlessly match the atmosphere of shared office environments. In short, they are environments that place value on diversity, collaboration, and progressiveness.  

Johnson adamantly drives home his belief that we should do away with the notion of the “Eureka!” moment. It just isn’t realistic. Instead, we should think of an idea as a network - literally, neurons firing in sync with each other in our brains, but also as a network of separate experiences or thoughts gradually building on each other over time, or a network of people combining individual ideas to generate an even grander idea.

Incubation and Collaboration: The Keys to a “Good” Idea

This all boils down to the light fixture I had initially mentioned, and why it represents our entrepreneurial community so well: it symbolizes not just one idea, but multiple “a-ha!” moments communicating with one another. Those “a-ha!” moments might come from the mind of a single person, stewing on accumulated thoughts for years before they evolve into an idea (incubation), or they might come from the collective minds of multiple individuals putting their heads together (collaboration).

We believe that good ideas, and the future of the work space, lies in what Johnson calls the “unpredictable power of open innovative systems.” Our light fixture is an ode to this unpredictable power, and is a daily reminder to keep on contemplating, creating, and collaborating.