15 February 2009

How does one germinate an idea?

The germination process of a seed embryo is fascinating...an incredible connection between genetics and the environment. There are many varieties of seeds in a wide variety of shapes, all designed to interact with their environment. Depending on the harshness of the environment, for example, the thickness of a particular seed coat will prevent early germination and waits for external triggers. Others are receptive to light, others to moisture. The diversity is spectacular. Seeds need to be motivated to germinate. Some seeds must germinate within a certain amount of time or they will die. Other seeds can survive for thousands of years.

Seeing an image of a seed got me thinking about 'ideas'. Isn't an idea no more than a seed waiting to germinate? Given the right environmental conditions and timing, an idea will develop. Under harsh conditions, an idea might not develop and it could die or remain dormant until the time is right.

If this is true, and every idea is unique, then how do we know what the ideal environment will be that will trigger germination? Can we predict the success of an idea based on the likelihood of an ideal environment? Can we trick a idea into germination by altering the environment? Aha! Yes we can.

In gardening, seeds are often tricked into action by refrigerating the seeds for a while before planting them making them believe Spring has arrived. Can we too create a 'false' environment for our ideas? Absolutely. Take the media as an example, or propaganda. Are these not prime examples of creating 'false environments'?

Going back to the concept of idea as seed, let's explore the germination of an idea in an institution, an educational institution. The idea stemming from the President's office needs to be triggered by external stimulus, i.e. the economy. To germinate an idea to penetrate the surface of the institution, a.k.a. the front line or the students, there has to be a transcription of the ideas, a learning that is passed on from one level of the institution to the next, from the highest level of accountability (the President's office) to the most important level with the biggest impact, the faculty.

There needs to be a vehicle, a motivating force, to trigger the internal germination of an idea, an energy source to fuel the germination of an idea. In this scenario, the institution has to have cross-disciplinary units to see an idea from germination to full growth.

I would call this process 'seeding ideas'. But what about grassroots ideas that grow from unstructured beginnings, wild and free? How do these ideas take root without first being germinated from a seed?

I used the institution seed-idea as an example because, well, I work in an education institution. But this is not to say that only hierarchical structures generate ideas. No, far from it. Going back to the understanding of environmental triggers, there are many more diverse scenarios to consider, cultural, regional and environmental. Triggers are going off all over the world, and from these we often hear about people's "ah-ha" moments when an idea suddenly makes sense and makes its way to the surface.

My point? Simple. Ideas are seeds that can be either falsely germinated or allowed to germinate naturally in environments that will let you know when the time is right. Forced ideas with bad timing will not survive and some ideas, if not germinated quickly, will die. Some ideas however have the patience to wait; and skins strong enough to withstand the harshness of the environment.

Ideas need to be triggered into action. So how do you activiate an idea? Make sure the environment is right. How? Read, follow the news, travel, listen and reflect. You may not grow a field of flowers the first time your idea sprouts but eventually, roots will form and your idea will be passed on.

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