This post from Terry Frazier connects neatly with something I've been wondering about a fair amount lately: how to judge when to pause and think about something deeply, and when to dive in and see where your momentum and the 'current' take you. Terry, describing a talk given by Lisa Haneberg, says:

  • Breakthroughs happen in a social context – If you aren’t out actively promoting your goal or idea – discussing it regularly with friends, colleagues, and strangers and sharing your challenges, achievements, and objectives – you aren’t going to make any breakthroughs.
  • Introverts, no matter how smart, rarely make breakthroughs – Breakthroughs do not happen in front of your face. They happen in the connections and gaps and networks that emerge from constant forward action and focus.

Now, I suppose that there is still a place for solitary, deep, uninterrupted thought. But when I think back, most of my 'epiphanies' have come after discussing my thinking with others. It's the extra context you get from someone else's slightly different take that often makes the difference. A small example: last week I was explaining the notion of 'embracing constraints' to my colleague Brian, a phrase I learnt from 37 Signals' Getting Real. I've been taken with this phrase for a while, in it's intended context of welcoming external limiting factors when designing software - to produce leaner, more focussed applications as a result. Brian, I think, slightly misunderstood my use of the phrase to taking it to mean that the end user embraced the constraints imposed on them by well-designed but less feature-rich applications. I started to correct him.... but realised that his view was, I thought, in the spirit of the intended meaning. His misunderstanding, and the ensuing conversation, has added a new depth to my appreciation of this notion.

So, breakthroughs happen in a social context. Modern technology, especially telecoms and internet technologies, ensure that the 'social context' is very easy to find. A whole raft of Web 2.0 applications offer more social networks than we could possibly need. Indeed, watching colleagues playing with Twitter, I wonder if the social context might become something we start to have to find ways to avoid! What price quiet contemplation? So anyway, are we seeing and experiencing more frequent 'breakthroughs' in our thinking, as a result of our handy 'social contexts'? In my case, I think....maybe.

(Terry's posting found via Curiouser and Curiouser)