Setting up accidental discoveries

Lots of our best ideas come from "out of the blue". They are serendipitous in nature, close to chaos, confusion and happenstance. Where Good Ideas Come From acknowledges this source with its fourth fractal pattern: Serendipity.

Some minds are more receptive to fortuitous inspirations and coincidence than others. Psychologists have labeled this a "high tolerance for ambiguity". It's the opposite trait from control freaks who need to be right and to avoid cognitive dissonance. Steven Johnson mentions research that correlated higher IQ with longer moments of mental confusion. This generative chaos in the mind yields new connections, divergent explorations and fresh possibilities.

Confusion is technique used in brief therapy, counseling and mentoring. Once a client's trust is established, the client often hangs on the therapist's every word. The confusion technique breaks this excessive dependency by contradicting oneself. The client no longer knows which advice to trust and is left to choose without help. Clients accidentally discover they can sense which is better when presented with confusion. They begin to trust their own judgment more and go within to get more guidance.

We can get more meaningful coincidences to occur by seeing life as a waking dream. Characters and events that show up in our perceptual field seem symbolic and significant. We appreciate what happens for showing us something we were ignoring, teaching us something we needed to learn next or answering a question we've been asking. We stop taking evidence at face value and open to the depth of what it offers us. With practice at this, we notice more of what's happening and how perfect it is for our journey right now. We accidentally discover that life can be trusted to show us way through its obstacle course.

Lots of brilliant breakthroughs have come upon waking from vivid dreams. Creatives get this phenomena to happen more frequently with a process of incubation. It presumes there's a reward coming for not knowing the right answer, next step or solution to the problem. It's the opposite of schooling that gives us bad grades for being "stupid like that". Incubation also relies on knowing so much that it becomes apparent what is unknown. Just before going to sleep or taking a nap, it works to become consumed with everything that is already known about a problematic situation and the request all that generates. Then let it go and see what comes to mind upon waking. It may be a a revised definition of the problem, a new way to see the evidence, a process to trust without interfering or a solution to implement.

We also set up accidental discoveries by taking a break. We can escape self-perpetuating task mode by taking a walk, a swim or a nap. It often helps to listen to some music or gaze at the scenery without thinking. Our minds open up and become more receptive to fresh discoveries. We also set up chance encounters by breaking our physical routines. Taking a different route, shopping at a different store or responding differently to a familiar request all invite serendipity. We also realize more accidental discoveries by taking a break from knowing what we're seeing. When we adopt a stance of innocence facing a mystery in search of clues, our "eyes of wonder" will see things that had not occurred to us before. We will wonder how we could have been so blind, so quick to assume or so biased as to miss what we see with these "new eyes".

I wonder if I've said enough about this? I wonder if I've said too much? I wonder if there's something else to be wondering about right now?

Here are my other explorations of the seven fractal patterns of innovation in Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson:
  1. Migrating to the adjacent possible (adjacent possible)
  2. How do good ideas behave (liquid networks pattern)
  3. Where hunches go to die (slow hunches)
  4. Setting up accidental discoveries (serendipity)
  5. Benefiting from errors (errors)
  6. Getting psyched for exaptation (exaptation)
  7. Flourishing on emergent platforms (emergent platforms) 

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