06 April 2011


Medium Review: Book. Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson.

[This is a reprint of a brief review I posted on Visual Bookshelf.]

Steven Johnson,  Where Good Ideas Come From, Riverhead, 2010.

What an informative and entertaining read. Johnson explores how innovation happens, from discovery in the natural world via the sciences to invention in technology via engineering. What emerges is contrary to the lone actor idea that's popular both in popular culture as well as in commerce-directed politics.

It turns out that ideas and innovations that have impact are more likely to emerge where there are networks to build foundations, explore precursors, and create environments where the new concepts and inventions can flourish. Johnson doesn't just claim this without justification, he performs a reasonable analysis of numerous inventions, classifying them by owned/public and by sole/networked, demonstrating that a preponderance come from the public-networked combination.

His identification of aspects of good innovations are the chapter titles—"the adjacent possible," "liquid networks," "the slow hunch," "serendipity," "error," "expatiation," and "platforms"—each with multiple examples of supporting ideas and technologies. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in ideas and the kinds of environments that make good ones come forth.

p.s. The appendix to the book with its list of discoveries and innovations is worth the price.

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