How Do You Come Up with an Idea?

Imagine if medical scientists gave up on researching potential cures for diseases, or if the entirety of NASA no longer cared about what lies beyond our solar system. Try to picture a future where musicians stop composing, artists permanently put away their painting supplies, and all engineers decide that technology needs no further development. Worst of all, imagine how you would feel if your favorite author decided to stop publishing new books—in the middle of a series. Sounds like a pretty miserable world, right?

Countless professions, from biomedical science to creative writing to archeology, rely on the natural progression of ideas. Pursuing those fascinating “what if” questions, and having the intrinsic desire to create better things for generations to come, is the reason why these jobs exist in the first place!

However, people frequently underestimate their own potential to form new ideas. I’ve heard countless complaints from individuals who say they’re “just not creative people,” or that their ideas are somehow “not good enough.” I’m here to challenge this common notion because, quite frankly, anyone is capable of generating revolutionary ideas that can change the world. And if you don’t want to blindly take my word for it (I understand), then let’s take a brief look at the ways people throughout history have come up with ideas.  

Strange “Eureka” Moments Through the Centuries

Perhaps you’ve been told the bizarre tale of how Archimedes finally solved a mathematical problem while he was enjoying a bath. His sudden idea prompted him to suddenly yell “Eureka” (or “I have found it”), leap out of the tub, and sprint nude through the streets of ancient Greece to go test his theory. Although historians mostly agree that the story of Archimedes streaking through Syracuse is heavily embellished, most believe that his idea of water displacement and correlation to weight likely happened during a relaxing bath.

Archimedes is certainly not the only one who encountered his most important ideas in weird circumstances. Consider Sir Isaac Newton, who finally came to understand the concept of gravity after getting hit in the head by a falling apple. Or these brilliant minds, who got ideas through less-than-brilliant means:

  • Sir Alexander Fleming: After Fleming left piles of dirty petri dishes strewn about his lab, he returned later to find that bacteria had spread everywhere, except for one area of mold that appeared to be resistant to it. He tested the mold and it was found to block several types of bacterial strains; and thus, penicillin was created.
  • Constantin Fahlberg: You know how scientists are generally super careful to wash their hands after working with chemicals? Fahlberg somehow forgot this essential step after doing experiments with coal tar because he was in a hurry to eat dinner. While he was eating, he noticed that everything tasted oddly sweet. He ran back to the lab and proceeded to taste the substances in every beaker until he discovered the source of the sweetness: saccharine, which is a common sugar-free sweetener still used today.
  • Wilson Greatbatch: In the early 1950’s, scientists were trying to build functional pacemakers, but none were suitable for humans until 1956. At this time, Greatbatch  created a device that was supposed to record heartbeats, but instead, his invention gave off electrical pulses similar to those of human hearts. His accident led to the first functional pacemaker, a biomedical device that has saved thousands of lives.
  • J.K. Rowling: The world-famous author of the Harry Potter series came up with all kinds of ideas for her stories, but she reportedly found most of her inspiration from beyond the grave. Or, more accurately, an actual graveyard located in Edinburgh, Scotland. Rowling states that she often wandered through the eerie cemetery known as Greyfriars Kirkyard while she was writing her stories. In fact, Rowling even used names she found on the tombstones as inspiration for her characters!

How You Can Develop Ideas

Listen, great ideas can come from anywhere, but they often come through unforeseen events and circumstances. People can be inspired after tragedy strikes because they understand how it can be prevented in the future. Those who make mistakes while cooking or building a new machine might end up with something even better than what they originally had in mind. The only difference between feeling inspired or defeated is the way you respond when things don’t go according to plan.

Since the earliest documentations of human history, ideas have been the driving force behind the formation of society and civilization as we know it. Likewise, accidents are bound to happen along the way, but this should inspire you to be open-minded rather than discouraged by the unknown. Without ideas and the curiosity to pursue them, our entire world would come to a standstill. Keep this in mind next time you have an idea, and remember that when it comes to sharing your unique insights with the world, our writers are here to help your ideas come to life.

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