How to make discoveries…

Deep down, I am an explorer at heart. There is this sense of joy in finding things out and making discoveries. As Tyson Yunkaporta describes it in Sand Talk, “If people are laughing they are learning. True learning is a joy because it is an act of creation ”[1]. A lot of us enjoy these little Aha-moments when you realise Ah, I get it now. According to David Deutsch in Beginning of Infinity, It’s our ability to understand, explain and make discoveries that make us human [2]. If you are able to understand you become more alive. You can make discoveries in lots of different areas. I was pondering on how to combine existing frameworks and conditions to make it more likely to discover something for yourself or the world. Here are some thoughts on how to make your discovery engine work.

Start with a purpose

A combustion engine is a good analogy. You need a spark plug to start your engine. The spark is your purpose combined with your curiosity. If you like to create something meaningful it’s very helpful to define a purpose upfront to guide your curiosity. It will keep you in sync with the topic you are exploring. Have a look at Simon Sinek’s work to find out more about the importance of purpose [3].

Open and Focus

At the heart of a combustion engine is a chamber that compresses and expands fuel and thereby moves a shaft. This combination of expansion and compression or open and close is quite fascinating. Just as you are thinking about this now, there is a set of neurons in your brain diverging the communication in different directions searching for analogies and meaning why that is just to converge your thoughts again, as described by Douglas Hofstadter in Surfaces and Essences [4].

So let us have a look if this combination of opening and closing can be used to make discoveries. In design thinking and brainstorming you use activities for divergent thinking to create many ideas followed by activities for convergent thinking to choose the best ideas [5]. In a way, you are opening and expanding and then you are closing and focussing.

 

Just creating choices and making choices probably may lead you to some discoveries but a lot of discoveries may be accidental because your choices are not informed. So how can we extend our model a bit?

Let’s Play

Let us introduce another element into our process. We need some time to explore, play and experiment with our choices to make more informed decisions. If you think of an engine again, it needs some play to move. Equally, we need to give your thoughts permission to play and explore, connecting them to other thoughts. Think of it as playing lego with your thoughts. You build some things in your head and then you decide to save good ideas. Down below I have illustrated what the process could look like. You open your mind, explore and play with your thoughts and then close in on your idea.

 

If this process looks very familiar to you, it’s because you can find it in a lot of places. Take scientific method [6] for example You research the field and define a hypothesis (open). You design a method, perform an experiment and obtain some results (explore/play), then you discuss the results, put them into context to conclude (close). If you think of most movies, plays, novels or stories in general, they have a beginning (open), where the characters and their world are defined, a middle (explore/play) where the characters explore and play with another and the world (explore/play) and a conclusion that wraps up the story (close). You can find a beautiful description of this in Gamestorming by James Macanufo and Sunni Brown [7].

It’s almost that we perceive most of the content in this fashion. Why is that? Maybe it has to do with our environment. Each spring the Earth opens up and lots of plants start growing and the world is in full bloom in summer (play/explore) and in autumn and winter lots of plants shrink or die and lots of animals go into hibernation (close). Each day we wake up and make a plan about what we are going to do (open), then we do the things we do (explore/play) before we wrap up the day (close) just to do it again. This is actually a good transition to the next section. Now that we have the basic framework of our discovery engine, let’s see if we can turn it on.

Give me some feedback

An old German proverb is: Übung macht den Meister — practising makes one a master. When you try to learn something like playing an instrument, it’s not only the repetition of the process but each time some learning gets fed back into the process. Now to improve any process, you need to collect feedback from the previous round and apply it to the next time you run the process. Most of the time design is an iterative process as well, multiple loops of divergent thinking, exploration and convergent thinking. Now you have a framework that allows you to get better at what you are doing, but how can you make discoveries?

 

Surprise yourself

A closed feedback loop process is pretty efficient if you like to develop things further, but not so much for making discoveries. Once we have the process going, we need to open it up, introduce some unexpected surprises, like perturbations or change some of the boundary conditions. This can be a change in the environment, e.g. that all meetings are shifted to the virtual space because of a global pandemic, and surprisingly they get more engaging because a broader range of people can now attend. If you want to make discoveries you can add these changes artificially by adding concepts and ideas from different fields to your process. It is advantageous to include people from different disciplines to work together to find meaningful changes you can make.

 

Interestingly, improv theatre embraces a similar method using “Yes, and…” at its core [8]. The “Yes” basically means you are agreeing with your scene partner which keeps the feedback loop going and the “and…” adds new information about the characters, their relationship or the environment and thus creating very colourful scenes. Using the scientific method you try to ask novel questions. Most of the time by combining knowledge out of different fields, leading to a shift in perspective that lets you discover things that you couldn’t see before.

Coming back to the analogy of the engine. Adding a surprise is a bit like stepping down on the pedal to inject new fresh fuel into the system to let you go to places you haven’t been before.

Explain and Provide Access

Finally, try to explain your learnings and share them with others so that they can build on top of them and make more discoveries. I sometimes think of ideas as people. You conceive them, you nurture them but at some point, they need to stand on their legs, so that they can explore and change the world and combine with other ideas to generate new ideas and views.

Conclusion

I hope you enjoyed my little exploration around how to make discoveries and all the little analogies. The process is inspired by the ideas of lots of people. I added some references at the end if you like to investigate further. Hopefully, the article has sparked some thoughts about the topic in you. Here is the discovery process in condensed form:

1. Be curious and define your purpose
2. Open your mind and heart to information and people
3. Embark on a playful exploration
4. Focus on what you learned and put it into context
5. Explain and share your learnings
6. Take your learnings and add something unexpected
7. Feed back your learnings and the novel aspect into the process and start again

During the whole process be present and pay attention to changes in details and the bigger context. Sooner or later you will discover something exciting for yourself and others.

If you liked this article please share it so that others can enjoy it too. I would love to hear your thoughts and feedback about the topic. Please comment below or get in touch directly.

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Have a wonderful day and don’t forget:

Only if we can see the world in different ways, we will see how it really is.
Only if we can see ourselves in different ways, we will see who we really are.

References

Here are some books and websites that provided ideas and insights this article was built upon

[1] Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World by Tyson Yunkaporta
[2] The Beginning of Infinity by David Deutsch
[3] Start with Why by Simon Sinek
[4] Surfaces and Essences: Analogy as the Fuel and Fire of Thinking by Douglas Hofstadter and Emmanuel Sander
[5] Design Thinking — brainstorming through the ‘Ideation’ phase by Nima Torabi
[6] Steps of the Scientific method
[7] Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers by James Macanufo and Sunni Brown
[8] Getting to Yes And by Bob Kulhan

Ideas Anonymous #8

Lots of lively discussions at Ideas Anonymous #8 last night.

Here are the ideas that were shared:

  • Reaching out to help teams during COVID
  • Exploring online channels for design thinking workshops
  • Interactive platform to eat healthily and support the environment
  • Opportunities for connection through guided observation
  • Advocacy to encourage more cycling
  • An alternative implementation of festivals during COVID

Favourite quote for the night: “If you like to have more engaging conversation make sure you train yourself to ask questions starting with How and Why instead of What, When and Where”

Things that came up in conversation: 5 Whys, Theory of Change, Eco Caddy, Sounds of Africa Festival, Rob Cot, Good Karma effectTHNK.innovation, Emma May Lang Yoga, Freestyle Cyclists, Nutribe

Upcoming Event’s: Amy Churchouse’ Connection Exploration, Early Work Crew

If you like to come to Ideas Anonymous #9 you can sign up here. Feel free to pass the invite around to friends that may be interested.

#Ideas #Ideasanonymous #vastexperiences

Ideas Anonymous #7

Lots of fun exploring at round 7 of Ideas Anonymous last night. We looked at many ideas to make the world a better place.

Here are the ideas that were shared:

  • An App to collectively support people who are mistreated
  • Using the COVID crisis to move to a circular economy 
  • Using design thinking to support idea development
  • Ways to publish books and making event marketing more efficient
  • An interactive event series around topics everyone should know about 

My favourite quote for the night by Erwin Boermans: “You never know if you don’t ask” Keep being curious and ask for help if you need it.    

Things that came up in conversation: She’s a crowd, Good Karma effect, THNK.innovation

Upcoming Event’s: How to product innovate 10X faster at a tenth of the cost post COVID-19, Early Work Crew

If you like to come to Ideas Anonymous #8 you can sign up here. Feel free to pass the invite around to friends that may be interested.

 

Update #5: The joy of finding things out

Welcome to Vast Experiences, the place where you can be yourself and can expand your horizons. I’m Eike Zeller. I just started a new routine around building Vast Experiences. You can read more about it here. 

Playful Ideas

I have been meditating for a while now and recently started to meditate for an hour first thing in the morning. It’s nice to give yourself permission to let your mind drift off into all sort of directions and when you open your eyes again everything seems to be a bit clearer. This morning I was thinking a lot about the joy of finding things out. I was thinking of an interview with Richard Feynman I watched many years ago there are a lot of gems in it. Have a watch here.

Growing Methods

I’m currently reading Sand Talk by Tyson Yunkaporta. It’s a book about how indigenous knowledge can save the world. It’s a fascinating read. There is a beautiful part of the book about the joy of discovering new things.

The burst of pleasure we feel when genuine knowledge transmission takes place occurs from of new neural pathways. These are connections between two points that were previously unconnected. Jokes are one most pure examples of this neural creation event; In humour is based on two ideas coming together in a new way — puns, rhymes, double meanings, unusual circumstances, accidents, exposed delusions and contextually inappropriate content are examples of this. The chemical rush we get from sudden neural connections in jokes is so intense and pleasurable that we laugh out loud. This kind of humour and joy in learning is a huge part of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures. If people are laughing, they are learning. True learning is a joy because it is an act of creation.

It is an amazing way to thinking about how learning, creating and play are connected. Part of what I am doing with Vast Experience is to explore new ways how we can get joy out understanding and learning about ourselves and our environment. Improv theatre is a classic example to learn about yourself and people in a safe and joyous environment.

Creative Experiments

Every Tuesday night, my friend Tim and I are facilitating a virtual improv class on Zoom. Last Tuesday we played a game you get endowed with a topic, let’s say ‘tissues’ and then you play to an expert on tissues present a talk at the International Tissue Symposium and the other players get to ask you questions. It’s nice to be in a controlled environment where you can explore your mind and interact with others and it trains you to have more engaging conversations. If you like to join the virtual improv group get in touch at eike@vastexperiences.com

Connected Discussions

It’s the 4th week we have been running the Early Work Crew. This week we started as a little segment in it called “Know How To Share”, where we share little tips and tricks and tutorials about how we work and about the tools we are using, like you to design banners with Canva or how to display data in meaningful ways. After 19 sessions of the Early Work Crew, I feel like I’m starting form a habit. I am very grateful for all the inspiring people joining in for 90 min of undistracted work in the morning. If you are interested to get an inspiring headstart to the day you can sign up here.

Curious Conclusions

Keep creating all of these wonderful things in your head and turn the most beautiful thoughts in reality. If you can imagine things, they exist in your mind. Talk to others about them then they exist in their minds. Write them down then they exist on paper. Play with them, then they develop. Put them into action and let your ideas explore the world, let merge other ideas and form new ideas. One day they will return to you and make you proud. If you like to play around your ideas in a supportive environment come along to Ideas Anonymous. Every fortnight, we get together and explore our ideas and find ways to turn them into reality. 

Have a lovely weekend. See you next week.

Only if we can see the world in different ways, we will see how it really is.
Only if we can see ourselves in different ways, we will see who we really are.

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Ideas Anonymous #6

A very international Ideas Anonymous last night. We gained lots of new insights around climate change, food, art, storytelling, travel and the future of work.

Here are the ideas that were shared:

  • A travel experience while you are staying at home
  • Offline correspondence courses
  • Ideas to convince companies to sign up to carbon net-zero
  • Delicious coffee alternatives 
  • None-for-profit to combat food waste
  • Summarizing articles and books in pictures
  • Ways to measure and improve dignity in the workplaces

Things that came up in conversation: Alain de Botton’s The Art of TravelEmerging Writers FestivalMichael Pollan’s CaffeineLentil As AnythingOz Food HarvestY Waste AppEd Catmull’s Creativity Inc.

Upcoming Event’s Megan Davies’ Story Happy HourHumans, not Strangers no 3: Curious Questions. Meaningful Conversation.Early Work Crew

If you like to come to Ideas Anonymous #7 you can sign up here. Feel free to pass the invite around to friends that may be interested. 

Here is the picture Travis drew during Ideas Anonymous. His Instagram handle is @trav_does_design