Creativity and the Lightbulb Moment; Where Do Ideas Come From?

I’ve always liked the image that cartoonists and writers have used to signify a new idea or inspired solution; the thought bubble with the lightbulb aglow. I wonder how the cartoonists handled it before Edison. Maybe they used imagery like a match lighting or the ‘ding-ding’ of a bell or a prospector striking gold.

Something occurs to us all of the sudden, whether it’s regarding a musical impasse we’ve been puzzling over recently or an unfinished Great Idea that’s been lying dormant for a few years. We have our “Eureka!” moment and finally get to write the ending to our unfinished lyric or story, find the perfect bridge for the middle of a song, come up with a great idea for a new business or invention, or stumble upon an untried approach to a pressing societal need.

Even finding creative “A-ha!”s for more everyday matters such as how to remodel the living room, think outside the box on a work assignment, or combine the pantry contents into an imaginative improvised meal, creativity and those moments of inspiration can strike at any time in tasks both large and small. Where do the ideas come from? How does the brain navigate through the possibilities and then select the one that seems most appropriate? What makes a good idea and what happens in the brain during those lightbulb moments? Here’s author Steven Johnson’s entertaining animated take on it:

cross-posted at Life Is Melody.