The Inklings, and Where Ideas Come From

Bars, Pubs, Tea Houses and Coffee Shops… these are all places where diverse groups and individuals get together and co-mingle. Steven B. Johnson (@stevenbjohnson), in his book “Where Good Ideas Come From,” describes how in coffee shops and places like them, many innovations were born:

  • The science of electricity
  • The insurance industry
  • Modern democracy

In the early 20th century, one pub in England (The Eagle and Child) was host to a get-together of local writers and academics, some of whom produced a few works that you might be familiar with. “The Inklings” gathered there to meet, hang out, work, write and talk. Among the Inklings were C.S. Lewis (“The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe”) and J.R.R. Tolkein (“The Lord of the Rings”). Yes, these guys hung out together at the same pub with professors of middle english (go figure), extended royalty (again, go figure), and a cast of other characters. Their meetings were frequent, they were not at all serious nor particularly structured.

For centuries, people have worked in coffee shops, tea houses, pubs and libraries, productively. As people, we historically have worked in ways that are self-organized. The environments draw a diverse lot of us who flock to such spaces for comaraderie and for the support of a network, but what was interesting is that it’s in such spaces that so many diverse backgrounds seem to collide with each other, which is how innovative and creative sparks that set the fires to new industry.

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Jeff Ribeira

Great post! I agree that these kinds of places get much of the spotlight for being creative hotbeds, but honestly I think it has less to do with the physical location, and more to do with simply breaking out of the routine, and engaging other interesting people within that space. One person might find inspiration in a coffee shop, and another might find it while scaling a mountain. It doesn’t really matter as long as it’s not routine, and with interesting-to-you personalities. But the minute those activities or people become what’s expected, and/or mundane, and therefore, uninteresting, inspiration usually flies out the window.