July 25, 2016

Ideas, Part One: Pay Attention to What You Pay Attention To

We all have ideas, but where do they come from? I am fascinated by the ways in which people come up with new things. I’m sure you have an idea that you are toying with, for a business, a ministry, or maybe even a blog series.

You may think that great ideas come from an epiphany, that “eureka!” moment of brilliant insight. Charles Darwin’s eureka! moment supposedly came when he was reading something Thomas Malthus (an English clergyman, no less) had written about population growth. All of a sudden, the basic idea of natural selection popped into his head.

But what if ideas come from more of a slow burn than a flash in the pan?

Author Steven Johnson discusses this in his great TED talk “Where good ideas come from.” Johnson says ideas tend to be more of a slow hunch than a sudden epiphany.

Your ideas come from a lifetime of experiences. Your ideas come from the things that interest you. So let your thoughts build and stew in the back of your mind. And pay attention to those things you are paying attention to.

That seems to have actually been the case with Darwin. When another scientist reviewed the massive collection of notebooks that Darwin kept through all of his studies, the researcher found that Darwin had developed the idea of natural selection over the course of several months prior to his supposed epiphany. Darwin just had not combined all those ideas into his theory until that day.

For Darwin, this slow hunch only matured into a fully-formed theory over time. He had the idea inside of him, as he studied the natural world around him, until he had his breakthrough. But it was in there, building inside of him, the whole time.

What do you see in the world around you? What needs in your community break your heart? You may always notice the schools that need help. Or you may notice the populations always on the margins. Or you may notice the young families that are searching for something deeper.

Discover what it is that you are paying attention to, and then pay attention to that. Perhaps that is your idea. Perhaps that is your calling.

For me it was missional communities and innovative ministries. Long before seminary, I was interested in people that proclaim the Gospel in new and innovative ways. This interest continued to build, until I decided I had to do something about it. Only, what I originally set out to do was nowhere close to what actually happened.

Over the next few posts I hope to share more of what I’ve stumbled upon as we developed our idea, and what I’ve learned from others who have much better ideas than I ever could.

In the meantime, take note of what interests you. Keep an eye out for the things that pique your curiosity. And keep paying attention to what you pay attention to.

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