Good Ideas Take Time to Form

Charles Darwin’s idea about evolution is a pretty damn good idea. It’s arguably one of the best ideas ever formed by a human mind. Even if you believe the earth was formed magically six-thousand years ago, you have to give the idea of evolution some credit for being a pretty annoyingly accurate and compelling idea.

Johnson talks about Darwin throughout this book, and in the chapter The Slow Hunch, he explains how Darwin came up with the idea. Anyone slightly familiar with the story knows it has something to do with a ship named the Beagle, the Galapagos islands, and bird species. That was my basic understanding and it was just enough of an understanding to get some jeopardy questions right from my couch.

Here’s what Johnson makes extremely clear:

Darwin formulated the idea of evolution over a long, long period of time.

We know this because Darwin kept copious amounts of notes (which I’ll talk about in an upcoming post) and you can see him dance around the idea for years. You can see this hunch take form and persist. Evolution and survival of the fittest is a big frickin idea, and it sure as shit didn’t come to Darwin all at once.

Johnson’s point is made in this anecdote: a big, good idea is usually too big and good to come from a snap insight. He says that things we think in an instant are usually “judgments,” not ideas. I like this food; that person seems friendly; that guy’s an asshole. Those judgments are easy to make in a hot second. “The mechanism by which evolution occurred” is a much bigger idea, and it did not just arrive in a flash of insight.