The glittering world of the salons

Oftentimes, the thing that turns a hunch into a real breakthrough is another hunch that’s lurking in somebody else’s mind. And you have to figure out a way to create systems that allow those hunches to come together and turn into something bigger than the sum of their parts. That’s why, for instance, the coffee houses of the Age of Enlightenment and the Parisian salons of Modernism were such engines of creativity: because the created a space where ideas could mingle, swap and create new forms.

Steven Johnson discusses where good ideas come from. I was struck by the notion that in order for ideas to come to fruition, they need to encounter other half-formed ideas. He mentions the coffee houses and salon of the past, but it occurred to me that we have much the same thing today. Every week in London, there’s are a seemingly endless stream of meetups and events. In my case, the ones I attend regularly are London IA, UX Bookclub London, UK UPA events, London Web Standards (which I’ve also helped organize), and London Web, amongst others. Not to mention the many conferences and unconferences that take place over the course of the year.

Most of these feature somebody speaking about a topic of interest, which is a great way to learn about something new. But Steven Johnson’s talk has made me realize what I really get out of these events: they allow me to talk people who are interested in the same things as I am. These are the people that help me clarify my ideas, and in some cases, help me make them happen.