Contagious Creativity

Great ideas are contagious. They jump from person to person and spread. When ideas change ownership they mutate. Most of these aren’t as good as the original or even defunct. Those ideas die out. Others will turn into something much more contagious eventually taking over the minds of people. It doesn’t matter if that happens by chance or by design. What matters is that some ideas die out whilst other evolve into something much more powerful.
Ideas are basically viruses, our minds their unsuspecting hosts.

Of course I’m not the first person to notice this. Professor Richard Dawkins for example coined the term ‘meme’ in his 1976 book ‘the Selfish Gene’ (read it). They can be defined as part of ideas, languages, melodies, ethic and esthetic values, skills and all other pieces of human knowledge that are shared throughout a population of people. Memes are a bit like genes. Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist so it makes sense for him to describe something that is essentially non-biological in biological terms.

I thought it would be nice idea to take his analogy a bit further and share with you three tips that will turn you into fire-breathing meme-machine.

1. Get infected

The quickest way to get infected with a virus or new ideas is to expose yourself to them. Museums, business and science books or newspapers offer plenty of opportunities to get infected. But salso consider riding a city subway, visiting a down-town school, reading childrens’ comics or doing your shopping at the other supermarket every now and then. The trick here is to expose yourself to people with ideas that are unlike your own; because they have different social or cultural roots or adhere to religious or political unlike your own. Aim for maximum diversity – your brain will do the rest.

2. Make em stick

Great ideas stick. Just like viruses, which are basically chunks of DNA or RNA that are very good at copying themselves and sticking to their hosts. Chip and Dan Heath devoted an entire book on the subject of stickiness. The entire book can be summarized their SUCCES anagram:.

Simplicity. Great ideas should be boiled down to their core. The rest is fluff.
Unexpectedness. Nothing grabs a person’s attention better than a little surprise.
Concreteness. Make sure people get and remember your idea otherwise they won’t share it.
Credibility. Whatever you sell, be believable. (Duh!)
Emotion. People aren’t rational machines, they are emotional creatures.
Story. Because everybody likes listening to (and retelling) a good story.

3. Be ruthless.

Nature can be ruthless. Viruses evolve when they are when they are under pressure. Especially when they are at the brink of near-extinction viruses will mutate and evolve like crazy. If they don’t: they die out. The same is true for ideas. There’s basically two things you can do to speed up this proces: selective breeding and putting them in a new environment.

Selective breeding created Chihuahua’s and great Danes our of wolf-life ancestors. The same is true for your ideas. To make sure the ideas living in your mind keep evolving you need to kill off some of them them from time to time. Yes, that’s right. Paradoxal as it may sound but you have to be ruthless from time to time to make room for new ideas. Of course one cannot force himself to forget something and I won’t advocate the use of mind altering drugs or complicated surgery to attain this effect. Just write them down into a notebook. The proces of consciously putting something on paper helps clear your mind and make room for new ideas.

Environmental changes turned similar wolf-like creatures into whales and dolphins. When ideas dwell comfortably in your own mind they usually won’t do very much. When you force your ideas out to live in other minds however they will need to adapt and evolve into new (and possibly much better) ideas. Alternatively they die out. Hence you need to share your ideas. Sharing ideas can be just as hard as killing them because once you start sharing ideas they will no longer be just your ideas. They will become theirs too for them to do with as they please.

For those who may feel some inhibition about sharing their ideas with others it may help to realize that once you start sharing your ideas you will find people much more inclined to share theirs with you.

To sum it all up: get infected, make em stick and be ruthless. Your ideas will thank you for it.

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