Where Ideas Come From

10.11.227 min read

What sparks a good idea? And how can we inspire more of them in this time of intersecting crises? We ask how ideas materialise, and how narratives and creative processes need to shift to enable more people to have a seat at the innovation table.

In this critical decade, we need to optimise the timeline from ideation to prototyping to responsible scaling to change the way humans approach life on Earth. And fast. From new approaches to housing and energy to ensuring equal access to essential resources and care — instead of innovating in silos, how can we work together to achieve more in less time? And how can we make sure the resulting innovations are meaningful for more people?

At SPACE10, we believe collaboration is key.

One of our core beliefs is that innovation should be an open and collaborative process. When people are immersed in a team or a scene they are more likely to produce creative, innovative work because they’re surrounded by other inspiring minds. What if we swap out an ego-system of one for an ecosystem of innovators?

‘In a complex and ever-changing world, we need to surround ourselves with people of different backgrounds and worldviews, so we can challenge each other, diversify our perspectives, and arrive at well-rounded innovations.’


So, how can we get there?

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The slow hunch

Steven Johnson spent five years researching the conditions that sparked creativity and innovation during the past 700 years. What he found is that there are no lightbulb moments. In fact, ideas spend a long time sleeping in the background — sometimes for decades. Ideas need time to incubate. He calls this dormancy and eventual release, the slow hunch.

‘Oftentimes the thing that turns a hunch into a real breakthrough is another hunch that’s lurking in somebody else’s mind,’ Johnson says in his TED talk. ‘And you have to figure out a way to create systems that allow those hunches to come together and turn into something bigger than the sum of their parts.’

Johnson’s research focused on the kinds of spaces that enable good ideas to blossom. The coffee houses of the 1650s, the Parisian salons of modernism, the Bauhaus workshops — these movements all had a commons where people and ideas could collide. ‘They created a space where ideas could mingle and swap and create new forms,’ Johnson says.

Ideas are networks

If ideas are what happen when one mind full of sleeping hunches connects with other minds, then: ‘the knowledge we use resides in the community,’ says cognitive scientist Steven Sloman, who studies how people think. ‘Thinking isn’t done by individuals; it is done by communities.’

This is how sharing ideas benefits everyone. And this is why we at SPACE10 strive to create environments where people and ideas can meet. From pop-ups, hackathons, exhibitions and panel discussions to exchanges on social media and inviting residents to work with us, we create opportunities for people with diverse experiences to come together — to spark ideas. Because ideas are a product of community and connectivity.

‘Ideas aren’t self-contained things; they’re more like ecologies and networks. They travel in clusters,’ Kevin Kelly, founding executive editor of Wired magazine and a former editor of the Whole Earth Review tells Wired.

So how can we move past the assumption that an idea is the result of an individual experiencing an illuminating moment? It might involve letting go of another myth — that of the lone genius.

We do not think alone

In 1995, researchers Alfonso Montuori and Ronald Purser deconstructed ‘the problematic nature of a hyper-individualistic understanding of creativity’. The following year, musician Brian Eno coined a new word to counter the idea of genius. ‘Scenius stands for the intelligence and the intuition of a whole cultural scene. It is the communal form of the concept of the genius,’ Eno writes in A Year with Swollen Appendices.

History, and how it has been told, has a lot to answer for this inward lens. Yet, when we look closely at the surroundings of figureheads, we see other stories. Albert Einstein worked at the Swiss Patent Office in Bern, where he ‘hatched his most beautiful ideas’ ahead of his 1905 innovations. The same year, a group of writers, artists and intellectuals began to gather at the London home of Virginia Woolf and her sister, artist Vanessa Bell. The Bloomsbury Group shared ideas and supported each other’s creative pursuits for more than 30 years. Steve Jobs grew up in Silicon Valley, conversing with Hewlett-Packard co-founder Bill Hewlett at age 12, who offered him a summer job.

Innovation stems from passionate, connected groups of people. It’s something feminist sci-fi author Donna Haraway is refreshingly open about. ‘[The feminist philosopher] Nancy Hartsock and I shaped each other quite a bit in those years. We were part of the Marxist feminist scene in Baltimore.’

Haraway speaks of how she, Hartsock, Sandra Harding, Patricia Hill Collins, and Dorothy Smith were in constant dialogue as they worked towards feminist theories — perhaps writing in isolation, but then bringing their proposals to their community to consolidate together. ‘It was a profoundly collective way of thinking with each other, and within the intensities of the social movements of the late 1960s and early 1970s.’

Similarly, Gangulu visual artist, activist and academic Lilla Watson presented a powerful quote at the United Nations Decade for Women conference in Nairobi in 1985 that is referenced regularly in humanitarian aid and activist spaces:

‘If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.’

However, Watson has stated that she is ‘not comfortable being credited for something that had been born of a collective process’. She prefers that the quote is credited to ‘Aboriginal activists group, Queensland, 1970s’ — the movement that generated this perspective.

Shifting the narrative to value collectivity

Unravelling images of solo excellence is necessary for innovation — and social change — to be prompted by the many people, not the few. ‘When we think of ideas as a result of individual genius, we create artificial scarcity and enclose something that should be a commons,’ writes interdependent digital designer Gemma Copeland of digital tools cooperative Common Knowledge.

How can we rewire what innovation looks like, and how we talk about it?

As a starting point, when we talk about our research and projects, we credit our team’s contribution simply as SPACE10. We know particular members of our team contributed to a specific project and across various levels of involvement. Yet our work, the topics we explore, and the direction and form a project takes are the product of the teeming ecology of SPACE10, including casual exchanges over coffee in the kitchen and friendly check-ins with collaborators before a meeting. We also credit all of the collaborators and experts who contribute to our projects and reports. Without them, we couldn’t have published the work.

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Growing ideas together

People immersed in a scene are more likely to produce creative, innovative work because they’re surrounded by other inspiring minds. ‘Ideas cause ideas and help evolve new ideas,’ neuropsychologist Roger Sperry said in 1964. ‘They interact with each other and with other mental forces in the same brain, in neighbouring brains, and thanks to global communication, in far distant, foreign brains.’

It’s something web-based group design tool Figma recently collaborated with communications company COLLINS to highlight. Together they crafted a campaign to demonstrate how collaboration between designers and non-designers not only disrupts creative hierarchies and workflows, but improves the solution.

This is why creating opportunities for our team, residents, collaborators, experts, speakers and community to gather is one of SPACE10’s key methodologies. So people with diverse backgrounds, skill sets, experiences and knowledges can meet, share, experiment and play together. We deeply believe our strength lies in our differences as diverse perspectives are key to greater creativity, better decision-making and faster problem-solving.

‘We see ourselves as an interface for innovation. A space where we can bring together experts and creatives from multiple fields and from all over the world to contribute to creating a better everyday life for people and the planet.’


What we know is that we need to keep creating these playful testing grounds, growing collaborative networks to bring people together, and providing the conditions that support creative collisions. And we need to make sure these reach beyond the immediate, obvious and easily accessible spaces and communities to diversify our perspectives and provoke collective visions of the future.

Hero Image – SPACE10 – Residency – Emily Whyman WIP – 111219 – Print – Photo by Niklas Adrian Vindelev – 3

Beyond the physical

The longer we work in a vacuum, the more likely we are to fail. By sharing ideas early, we receive feedback that enables us to adjust and improve our solutions. This makes it possible to validate the feasibility and desirability of a design concept to a wider audience at a fast pace.

At SPACE10, we intentionally share our research and projects openly to ensure others can build on what we begin. So even if we can’t be in a physical room together, people around the world can engage with our research and bring it to their own communities to adapt to their context.

Our projects are never an endpoint, but a beginning. We expect them to evolve, and hope that others will iterate on our starting points. Rather than approaching ideas as rare and precious — and building walls to protect them — we see ideas as abundant.

‘Working collaboratively and transparently means we can fast-track ideation and visualisation. Then by sharing the designs openly and welcoming public discussion and discourse, we can both iterate quickly and invite others to adapt or build upon our starting points.’


If our team had to be experts in everything, SPACE10 would need to employ thousands of people, and we’d be much slower at development. Through our collaborative approach, we can stay nimble and work with the best minds out there.

So if we can speed up serendipity and find the missing pieces (or people) that can help solidify ideas and turn imagination into action, then we can create a hopeful, collective future for people and the planet.