A Place for Ideas

People ask me, ‘Where’s the best place to think up good ideas?’, hoping that in the answer I might reveal the secret location of a magic glade of ideas where the Fountain of Enlightenment bubbles up from the Spring of Genius.

Of course, there are really almost as many good places as there are ideas to be thought of in them. On first glance it would seem that everybody has their own different, special place, but when we delve deeper into the question we find a few interesting facets to their commonality.

Many people would put it simply that the best ideas come from a peaceful, relaxing environment, perhaps in solitude. Some of the best places for this could be in woodland, in a sauna or in your own specially constructed den. The author Philip Pullman built a shed in his garden in which to write so that he could have peace and quiet and be surrounded by his research. But if the shed was the best place to write why did he write most of his famous trilogy in a cafe in the centre of Oxford?

Perhaps the answer has to do with how the brain works. It requires some form of stimulus and it requires a structure (rules) within which to work.

So what about a library? I’ve spent many hours in libraries not thinking about what I was supposed to be thinking about and not being very productive at all.

Could this be because the stimulus of the Library is so much less than the coffee shop? Less people, no noise, no nice smells. But the library has structure – perhaps too much. Being in an environment with so many rules that consciously need to be adheared to isn’t conducive to a free mind. That’s why children mess about in the places in which they’re most tightly restricted, like giggling at funerals. I feel faint and dizzy in delicate glassware departments in shops, ‘don’t knock the cabinet!’ says the voice in my head. I start to sway as my subconscious interprets the instruction as ‘smash all the expensive things’.

So we need a place that is peaceful (we’re not going to be too disturbed), is stimulating (but not too distracting), is structured (but not regimented). All of these the coffee shop provides. You have structure – a table and chair and a drink and no-one is going to kick you out, push you around or ask you what you’re doing (choose your coffee shop with care).

Don’t overlook the fact that change is sometimes better than a rest – if you work in a busy office you may get your best ideas in a peaceful place but if you work in solitude and silence you may find your genius is unleashed at a crowd of noise.

I know where my magic glade is. But that would be telling. Find your own.

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