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Faculty Insights

Where Will Your Next Good Idea Come From?

By Sherry Herwig

September 30, 2016

I had several topics I was considering for this blog, and as I was reading and researching for it, I thought to myself, I just need one good idea to get me started. And there it was, an epiphany, the a-ha moment, the one good idea—a blog about good ideas.
This led me to an interesting TED Talk, “Where Good Ideas Come From,” by Steven Johnson. Almost immediately Johnson set me straight about finding my blog topic in an a-ha moment. He said that’s how most people view a good idea—a single event that happens in an isolated moment—when in reality an idea is a network that happens internally and externally. Our internal brain reacts to new and unpredictable external interactions.

Sherry Herwig
Sherry Herwig, Executive Director, Wisconsin School of Business Family Business Center

In other words, seeking out new opportunities to learn and grow, especially if it puts you outside of your comfort zone, can be a breeding ground for ideas. It can be as simple as sitting next to someone you don’t know at a conference, a meeting, or networking breakfast. Gathering regularly with other individuals with a similar background to share challenges, mistakes, and just good conversation can plant a seed. Reading books and newsletters, listening to podcasts, or watching a TED Talk might trigger something that has been niggling at the back of your mind. Taking a class or joining a club or organization can lead to connections and conversations that you might not otherwise have.
Once you have put yourself out there, don’t forget to open up and share. Often times we want to hold tight to the start of an idea, or we don’t want to talk about things we have tried out of fear that someone will “steal” our idea. But that is exactly the point; a good idea is often made up of several pieces of other ideas or information, often not our own, and that’s okay. It’s the ability to take the various bits and pieces and connect the dots in a new way that leads to a good idea. Steve Jobs said, “Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something.”
If you are part of a family-owned business, the Family Business Center at the Wisconsin School of Business is an excellent idea generator. We are a community of business owners and their families that engage regularly to learn, think, and grow. With over 50 member companies representing various industries such as manufacturing, retail, recreation, service, food, and beverage (to name a few), there is always an opportunity to sit with someone you haven’t met before and strike up a conversation. Our culture of openness and sharing is part of what makes us unique and allows our members to cultivate the next good idea that will solve a problem, improve a process, create a new product, and ultimately make your business better. Contact me to learn more about becoming a member of this valuable community.
“This is not the wisdom of the crowd, but the wisdom of someone in the crowd. It’s not that the network itself is smart; it’s that the individuals get smarter because they’re connected to the network.”― Steven Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation