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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Ruminations on the Source of Inspiration

Every now and then I write an introspective post.  There's nothing new I have to report today.  I still have some investigations to continue on the HTML5 front, and some IHE work to complete on the Reconciliation profile before the end of the week.  And ....  You get the idea.

I've be wondering where ideas come from, especially big ones.  After all, if the big ones are the really important ones, I'd like to be able to repeat the process a bit more consciously.  After all, repeat-ability and process are important sources of improvement, right?

I've determined over the years that there is no single trigger for a brainstorm.  It may often is a single thing that unleashes it, much like a dust particle starts a rainstorm.  And it may be something else small that starts it, like the fluttering wings of a butterfly that causes a divergence from one path to another through a chaotic swirl of possibilities.  But through that path, there are a whole lot of other associated connections to the inspiration.

I try to understand my sources of inspiration.  A casual evaluation of the various sources of my posts on HTML 5 led me down some interesting paths.  Some of them were pretty well-worn, such as a mapping from CDA to HTML, which has a long history of being essential to the existing CDA standard.  Other parts of it come from getting to work with really intelligent and diverse people, such as at the recent Health Foo event.  My introduction to the term micro-format as a term comes from discussions around healthcare provider directories held by the FACAs over the past few months, a rather tangentially related idea.  I've used micro-formats plenty of times in my own development of web applications.  It is also a common approach in the development of well structured technical documentation, a field I spent many years working in (even before there was XML).  There's even some notion of microdata (although neither that term, or the term microformat is even used) in the PCAST report.

My wife has a favorite phrase:  "You had to be where you were to get where you are." (Or as Buckaroo Banzai put it:  "No matter where you go, there you are.")  In my case, this is so true.  I have often wished to have been involved in this, my career and passion from the start without all of the side-steps and diversions.  But if that were possible, I wouldn't have the diverse skills, knowledge or insight to pull some of these pieces together.

So, what have I learned about big ideas?  Explore.  Do unconnected things and try to link them together.  Do it a lot. Not everything will work out, but sometimes, accidents do happen.  And the important thing about them is to be where they are, when they happen, so that you can use your experience to see the value of them.  There is no magic formula for inspiration, just a pretty simple one.  The cool thing about it, is that if I follow it, it is also pretty fun.


  1. I think the term you are looking for is "lateral thinking". See

  2. Another term that you might consider is "serendipity."

  3. Seems to me that we spend a lot of time and effort incubating ideas and/or breaking ideas out of silos and making them suitable for broader use, and that silos get a bad rap. I mean, it's easier to find consensus within a small group and then extend the group, sure, but by the same token, the most heated and productive arguments I have had have also been within silos,; when folks agree on a small number of norms, and then disagree on everything else, it allows everyone's diverse histories and experiences to really shine through. You might call this lateral thinking or serendipity, I suppose.