Book Review: Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson


Author: Steven Johnson
Title: Where good ideas come from : the natural history of innovation
Publication Info: New York : Riverhead, 2010.
ISBN: 9781594487712

Previously read by the same author: Emergence

Summary/Review:

I’m pleased I won a copy of this book by one of my favorite science writers through the Library Thing Early Reviewers program.  In engaging prose Johnson explores through historical examples and case studies how people come up with great ideas.  It’s not the lone genius with a light bulb popping up over their head.

Johnson discusses that innovation is possible within the adjacent possible when a number of factors come together to allow a new idea to work (on the shoulders of giants to speak).  Strong networks – whether they be cities, the Web, or universities – inevitably contribute to greater innovation the solitary inventor.  Ideas also come over time, the slow hunch, where something in the back of one’s mind only becomes a possibility after years of interactions and research.  Error and serendipity play their part as well.   Johnson also discusses the idea of expatation where something built for one purpose is borrowed for an entirely different function.  Platforms are also important for the development of further innovations.

In an interesting conclusion, Johnson makes the case against the accepted belief of free-market competition being the greatest source of innovation (although state-controlled command economies are not the solution either).  Instead Johnson calls for continued support of research universities where networks are formed and ideas shared.  I enjoyed this book and I think it helped me look at innovation in new ways.

Recommended books: Connections by James Burke, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell, Sync: The Emerging Science of Spontaneous Order by Steven H. Strogatz, How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer, and Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip Heath.
Rating:

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