It was a sunny Sunday, the day after our closing performance of The Pajama Game, and my husband and I were taking one of our regular long walks in the brisk sunshine. Sometimes we are quiet and pensive, and other times we are quite talkative; this walk was one of those chatty times. As we returned home and unbundled ourselves from winter jackets, my husband commented that I should participate in the musical again next year, as he had been struck by the number of creative ideas I proposed during our walk.
My reply was that during the last month of preparing for the musical, and especially during the last ten days (including the two performance days), I had not consciously thought of any of the topics about which we talked during our walk. It occurred to me that by taking my mind completely off of the topics, the ideas had been able to jell on their own; just like leaving a good dish alone in the frig to marinate.
Janet Rae-Dupree writes for the Business section of the New York Times. In her February 3, 2008 Unboxed column, Eureka! It Really Takes Years of Hard Work she discusses what it takes for innovation to happen. In describing one innovator, she notes that he “likes to go to bed with one or more problems on his mind.” and his response is that “Typically, I’ll fall asleep chewing on it and then I’ll wake up at 4 in the morning with some sort of solution”. Rae-Dupree goes on to quote a psychologist who states that “Cognitive accounts of what happens during incubation assume that some kind of information processing keeps going on even when we are not aware of it, even while we are asleep.”
While the article is focused on innovators and entrepreneurs, that incubation process happens to all of us when we are mulling ideas over a sustained period of time. The ideas come in and out of our consciousness, and they simmer in the background until sufficiently cooked. At that point, we may refine them, toss them, or serve them up as is. It is this incubation, or simmering process, that is intriguing, because it is possible for all types of outside stimuli to impact the process. You never know in advance what comment or image or interaction will help the idea ferment and bring it to fruition.
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