There seems to be a lot of differing opinions on where and when people seem to have their great ideas. Are they alone? In a big group? A busy or calm environment? After watching this TED talk by Steven Johnson, I’ve come to think that the answer to all of these questions is ‘yes’.

It’s a little humorous to think of the way Steven describes the environment in Oxford before the arrival of the first coffee shop in the 1600s; the entire population being just a little bit tipsy most of the time, because alcohol was safer to drink than water. Imagine this city full of intellectuals who gather at pubs to discuss and share their ideas and steadily become more intoxicated the longer they talk. I feel like people would have forgotten a lot of what they talked about by the time they got home. So when the first coffee shop showed up it was this environment that worked very much like a pub, but instead of consuming a depressant, everyone was consuming a stimulant. The alcohol was removed, but the social environment stayed the same, giving people the opportunity to discuss, plan and actually remember their ideas later.

It’s interesting to compare how Steven describes the early coffee shops of the 1600s to the coffee shops (or the offices for that matter) that exist today. It’s safe to say that the average adult is still drinking a fair bit of coffee, but in general they do so alone. Walk over to your local coffee shop today and you’ll probably find neat rows of tables occupied by individuals sitting behind laptops, tablets or smartphones. What we don’t really think about when we see people in this kind of scenario is the fact that they’re connecting in a different environment; an online environment.

The reality of our society today is that the rows of individuals sitting behind laptops is the new norm, because people connect and collaborate in different ways than we did in the 1600s. That doesn’t mean that we’ve stopped having great ideas or discussing them with other people. We just choose to do that in a different environment. Online collaboration is one of the ways we can take our online focused culture and make it an environment where good ideas happen. It also allows us to connect and collaborate with people beyond our geographical location, encouraging us to share further and faster.

Occasionally we get Stormboard users who are frustrated with the tendency for a storm to get pretty busy. If that’s happening we think you’ve got a pretty good conversation going on. If no one is around to challenge and add to your ideas, they may not be as good as they could be. Stormboard can be a solitary environment, but it can also be an environment that looks a little like what you might have found in the early coffee shops. We think it’s ok to let the conversation get a little messy; we’ve got search and reporting functions to deal with that later.