Whilst the author of this piece being an investor talks about idea generation in the context of investing, the essence is quite generic and applicable in any field of life.

“Idea generation, in the investment business, has always been something of a dark art. Some managers prefer stringent quantitative screens to generate ideas. Others keep a narrow band of expertise and choose only to invest in particular niches. Then there are the generalists, who simply hunt in open territory for the best ideas. Each specialization requires specific frameworks to be successful, but the point is this: idea generation has always been—and will always be—part art, and part science.”

The article refers to a recent podcast where Jeff Bezos talks about how creativity needs lateral thinking, essentially letting your mind wander. He ofcourse refers to wandering in the figurative sense:

“…To be cross-disciplinary, and to meander among fields. This insight is important because some of the world’s best ideas were produced by individuals who pursued non-traditional, non-linear paths (and whose insights could be profoundly heretical.)”

The author gives the story of how Gutenberg got the idea for the printing press thanks to his other pursuits. 

“The story is instructive because it makes clear that good ideas require expertise, but the best ideas require a multidisciplinary understanding of the world. In other words, great ideas require wandering. In fact, the irony of expertise is that deep knowledge on a singular subject can be self-limiting. This is the basis of the Dunning-Kruger Effect: “The more you learn in a specific skill, the more you realize you don’t know.

…[Investing] is the study and application of how the world is evolving. If you become too fixated on a singular worldview—or become too insular in your thinking—then you are destined to fail. Put another way, I’ve never met a successful investor who simply reads earnings calls, reads the Wall Street Journal, and analyzes financial documents. The best investors I know are deeply voracious readers who “wander” in all sorts of fields—from art to science to engineering.”

The second interpretation of wandering is more physical – going on walks:

“Countless philosophers have effused about the mental benefits of walking, ranging from the ancient Stoics (“We should take wandering outdoor walks, so that the mind might be nourished and refreshed by the open air and deep breathing.” – Seneca) to more modern European philosophers (“All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.”  Nietszche) to the techno-libertarian walking ideology of Steve Jobs.

Perhaps my personal favorite quote on the subject comes from Thoreau, who once said: “Every walk is a sort of crusade.” (Thoreau himself was obsessed with walking, and even wrote a book on the subject.)

The idea-enhancing benefits of walking are not entirely understood from a neurological perspective, but one Stanford study found that walking can boost creative thinking and idea generation by an average of 60 percent.”

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