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Bling! 💡 The bulb lights up when Tom has yet another idea of a different way to catch Jerry- obviously in vain. But this representation of an idea has formed an unnecessary, rather, inaccurate image in our minds about having an idea- The illuminating bulb.
Why do we need rebranding of a concept?
Basically, how a brandmark or a logo depicts a brand, a symbol represents a concept or a word. Semiotics is the study of signs and sign processes, indication, designation, likeness, analogy, allegory, metonymy, metaphor, symbolism, signification, and communication. The semiotics of a bulb lighting up on having an idea limits the value of the process, which is why we need to rebrand (rethink) this concept. This imagery of a bulb has entered the conversational periphery through emojis.💡 This reduces the depth of idea generation to a single moment of the inspirational peak. Also, discrediting the process of marination of the concept in the subconscious among other processes, which could be going on for days to even decades.
Idea generation is like the process of kick-starting a bike with a cold engine. It would take many kicks to have the engine running. You must’ve tried kicking the kick-starter ten times and failed. Suddenly, it worked after one kick your friend tried. It is not his achievement because you heated the engine with the initial ten kicks. He was only lucky to be the eleventh. Recognizing only his contribution as his achievement is what we do when we attribute the eureka moment for the complete idea.
Just like brands need rebranding, concepts too could go outdated, demanding re-ideation. Think of how patriarchal archaic English language words like manpower, middleman, sportsman, and chairman have now become gender-neutral with the use of updated (rebranded) replacements like sportsperson and chairperson.
Who branded the bulb in the first place?
Archimedes’ Eureka moment or Newton’s falling apple moment or even Edison’s bulb, are stories that depict the moment when some of the most excellent ideas came to an executive conclusion. These moments fail to signify the story behind them, the research, studies, and trials before the apple fell unnoticed or before Archimedes sat mindfully in his bathtub, or those 3000 theories Edison developed before finalizing the concept of the bulb, followed by around 6000 vegetable growths he tried before concluding carbonized bamboo as the filament inside the bulb. (Let’s not even start about the contribution of Nikola Tesla)
Modern-day semiotics are supported by Google images that help ideators who follow the gravely unoriginal template approach while presenting.
What is an idea anyway?
The etymology of the word ‘idea’ comes from the Greek root word ‘idein’ which translates to the activity of seeing (to see) in English. Idea or ιδέα, in Greek, means form or pattern and this is proof enough.
The definition of an idea would indefinitely be “a thought or suggestion as to a possible course of action.”
What this suggests is that it must lead to an actionable process. Otherwise, it loses its literary and existential value. As important is the randomness of an idea, it should aim at filling gaps- whether it is the visual aesthetic, like the idea behind a painting or a basic need like Edison’s bulb.
The brains behind an idea
The creative function is something that is considered to be a task of the right brain. Whereas, the science and logical functions as part of the left brain functionality. Any idea is assumed to have a creative characteristic- wrongfully making it a task involving only the right brain. This ignores the lengthy task of the idea marination we talked about earlier.
Another reason the ‘lighting’ of the bulb is used to depict idea generation is that when a brain is active, it produces about 100,000 chemical reactions each second through tiny cells called neurons. These neurons carry out the process and transmission of information through chemical and electrical signals at a speed faster than a race car, at 420 KM/hour (could be a relation to your favorite grass- that’s a topic for another blog) After this biological process, our brain literally illuminates on reaching an insightful conclusion, a.k.a. an idea. A fitting but lazy analogy supporting the illuminating bulb.
The idea literature
Adjectives like ‘bright ideas’ unfortunately limit the scope of the concept and the process as a momentary activity instead of something with an investing approach. Some other phrases used- as Steven Johnson points in his TED talk are- the flash of insight, a stroke of genius, or an epiphany. These also contribute to reducing its value to one single moment. Johnson rightly calls these expressions as ornate rhetoricals that assume an idea to be a unique, independent phenomenon.
Where do ideas come from?
Kevin Dunbar, a researcher conducted extensive research on labs and scientists working in there. He had full access to these labs. He analyzed their methods, processes, meetings, records, even interviewed the scientists- followed by an analysis that went on for about four years. Dunbar found ample amount of insights, one of which was about the bulb illuminating moments when these scientists got ideas.
The ideas arrived in spaces that surprisingly were not in the labs wearing coats, peeping in microscopes and jotting notes. These moments occured in the weekly lab meetings on the conference tables when all these brains put forward the issues faced and creative hunches about all the projects that are discussed.
The physical and the neural
The right manner to describe this concept called idea would be connecting dots- the points of reference that help the concept and the thoughts that your brain has stored to connect to become an idea. Just like the neurons that have stored the idea and they form a neural network that combines and illuminates when the whole concept makes sense.
Every new idea is an individual neural network that might overlap but is basically neurons working in sync with each other in a unique configuration.
The human urge to tell stories
From the times when we started showing hints of forming civilizations, we have demonstrated our love for telling stories- whether it is cave paintings to modern day films. These stories need condensation of the full story into timeframes that match the human span of attention along with the twists, turns and points of interest that glue the audience to their chairs. This sometimes boils down concepts and processes into moments that enhance the interest points by adding elements of surprise.
To understand this better, let’s take the example of Darwin’s autobiography and the study conducted by American psychologist Howard Gruber who specialized in the psychological study of creativity. Darwin, in his autobiography conveniently mentions the moment he figured out the theory of natural selection while reading Malthus, on population. What he failed to mention are the books that Gruber found where Darwin had precisely noted down every idea he ever had. It could be said that he had a complete concept and basic algorithm of the theory of natural selection months before he allegedly had the epiphany. This undermines the incubation period and process of the brain carrying the seed thought. Every other piece of information is like fertilizer for this seed.
Idea after rebranding?
A bulb needs just a switch. An idea needs a vision, a void that needs to be filled, strategy, research, testing, feedback, updation, and branding. In a professional setup, all major work environments require ideas. It is difficult for one person to come up with an idea in its entirety — instead, it is an amalgamation of hunches that many brains have come up with.
A seed that transforms into a flower with fertilizer depicting various perspectives and thoughts could be the new semiotic that depicts something as simple as a concept yet as complex as a process- an idea.
Edison, when looking back at his ideas and inventions said, “My laboratory was a scene of feverish activity, and we worked incessantly, regardless of day, night, Sunday, or holiday. I had quite a large force and they were a loyal lot of men as a whole, and worked with vim and enthusiasm. We accomplished a great deal in a short space of time, and before Christmas of 1879 I had already lighted up my laboratory and office, my house and several other houses about one-fifth of a mile from the dynamo plant, and some twenty street lights.”