I was just reading a fascinating article on creativity in the latest issue of The New Yorker and wanted to share some lessons learned as quickly as I could. The “quotations” are just offsets, not the article’s words:
Physical space has a marked effect on creative output. Building 20, on the MIT campus, was apparently one of the most outstanding “incubators” for new ideas ever. Because it had a confusing layout and was designed to be a temporary structure, one which housed a variety of different programs and projects, all sorts of people who wouldn’t usually interact were running into each other all the time (as well as altering the space to fit their needs).
I am retyping this post after seeing it vanish from my computer screen, so let’s see if I remember the other two lessons that I was trying to impart… . Ah yes.
Dissent creates spark(le)s. Brainstorming is not all that successful–a single individual can come up with a list of ideas much more speedily than a group of people can, and better ones too–except when participants have to defend and grapple with each others’ ideas. Apparently the very process of encountering a “bad” idea, considering the perspective of its originator, attempting to assess whether or not it really is “bad” and how, and then trying to improve or replace it, jogs the brain into forming different connections, wider leaps, more surprising shifts of perspective…and more actually good ideas.
Proximity matters. The most successful published scientific research comes from participants who are no more than ten meters away from each other; distance of even 1 kilometer means a decreased likelihood of truly groundbreaking work.
Now what, I wonder, does any of this imply about our project for a Rule of Life?
In the first place, think it suggests that the communal aspect of most “regular” religious life in the past, which we have often considered simply a matter of necessity and (more cynically) co-surveillance, might in some way be a more important factor than we had bargained for. Or not. Maybe that’s just a bad idea I’m sneaking in there to spark your creativity.
Another, possibly dubious idea: that our rule framework should consider not only arrangements of time but also physical space… .