How Coffee Can Change the World

Yesterday we talked about how ideas need time; that many ideas hit us in the shower because it is often the one time each day when we stop and simply have time to reflect and make connections that turn into ideas.

Another thing ideas need is space. Interestingly enough we can see that through the history of coffee. All you coffee lovers out there (who probably went to get a cup of coffee after seeing the picture for this blog) already know that coffee can be an important ingredient in making thinking possible. But that is not what this blog is about.

Coffee actually played an important part in history and played a role in a number of the ideas that changed the world. It took place in Europe during the Middle Ages at the beginning of the time period called “The Enlightenment.” Water in the major cities of Europe was unsafe to drink and dangerous to humans. The choice of drink throughout the day, for those who could afford it, was alcohol. Ultimately this resulted in a lot of people being slightly inebriated, using a drug that was actually a depressant to brain activity. Along came coffee (and tea) through the spice trade. In Europe, coffee quickly replaced alcohol as the drink of choice throughout the day, and coffee houses popped up all over the cities of western Europe. Here is a great TED Talk by Steven Johnson that talks about the role coffee played in the age of enlightenment:


The key here is not so much the coffee itself (although switching from a depressant to a stimulant meant that a lot more thinking was taking place), but rather the location of the coffee and tea. These coffee houses that popped up became not just a place to get a drink, but also a meeting place where people talked, discussed, debated, even argued about the many different topics of the day. It was in this “space” that many ideas and innovations germinated. It is not an accident that many of the great ideas that came out of the Enlightenment have a coffee house as part of their story.

So what does this mean? Should we have the water fountains at school dispense coffee instead for our kids to drink? Of course not; however, I do think many of them would like the idea. The key from this historical lesson is the importance of the “space” for ideas to happen. We need to create the space for our kids to talk, discuss, debate, and even argue about the many topics of today, places where students can just hang out and congregate so that organic and natural discussions take place which then lead to ideas and “A-ha!” moments.

So if you’re wondering, yes, places like Starbucks and Coffee Bean are great for a meeting or for time to sit, study, and or contemplate. The coffee there might help stimulate your brain a little bit. But more importantly, the “space” at these modern day coffee houses provides a great environment for the birth of ideas, and maybe, just maybe, one oBlog_Post_April_17th_2017Bf those ideas will change the world.

If you haven’t read it already I would encourage you to get a copy of Steven Johnson’s book “Where Good Ideas Come From”. Once you have it, find “your space”, get yourself a good cup of coffee, and enjoy being inspired by Steven.

Karl Steinkamp
iHOS Blog #5
Day 5 of 30


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