We’ve all heard that we should read more books.
It’s true. Books are good for critical thinking and logic. They are good for your concentration. And they are essential for producing ideas.
I tend to read in cycles. I’ll read a lot of books for a month or two. Then, for the next several months I’ll barely read any.
I don’t know why this is, but it has made me notice something interesting about the production of ideas. I have a lot more ideas in those months when I’m reading a lot.
For example, I enjoy writing fiction. Oddly enough, I’ve found that reading non-fiction produces so many ideas for stories. I’ll finish a book and I’ll have dozens of sticky notes with sparks of ideas scribbled on them and stuck to the particular paragraph that inspired them.
Steve Jobs once said, “Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something.”
You’ve probably had one of those ideas that are there in a split second and leave you thinking, this is brilliant. It seems to just show up out of thin air. Maybe it’s in the shower. Maybe it wakes you up when you are almost asleep at night.
The brain amazingly takes two completely separate pieces of knowledge and turns them into one idea quite suddenly. While some of those ideas end up being bad, some of them are good and worth acting on.
This is what’s happening when I’m reading a book. My brain is making connections and going through a process that I’m unaware of until I get that aha moment and scribble the idea down.
In James Webb Young’s book, “A Technique for Producing Ideas”, he writes about two principles for the production of ideas that break down this process perfectly.
The first is that an idea is nothing more or less than a new combination of old elements.
If the brain doesn’t have enough of those elements, that spark doesn’t come about. It’s that simple.
The second is that the capacity to bring old elements into new combinations depends largely on the ability to see relationships.
Reading books is a great way to see those relationships. But can’t you get the same results from reading a bunch of articles online? Not quite. Books delve deeply into a topic. This allows connections between the nuances of that topic that a short article can’t touch. And in doing so, your brain doesn’t form as many connections and thus, not as many ideas.
Additionally, reading a book fully engages your brain and concentration, articles don’t. This makes your chance of producing good ideas while reading a book much higher than just reading an online article.
Moral of the story? If you want to have more ideas, read more books. Your brain will take care of the rest.