Book Summary: “Where Good Ideas Come From” by Steven Johnson


“Where Good Ideas Come From” by Steven Johnson

Title: Where Good Ideas Come From
Author: Steven Johnson
Scope: 4 stars
Readability: 4.5 stars
My personal rating: 5 stars
See more on my book rating system.

Topic of Book

Johnson identifies seven key patterns which lead to innovation.

Other books by the same author

Important Quotes from Book

“The argument of this book is that a series of shared properties and patterns recur again and again in unusually fertile environments.”

Adjacent Possible

“Good ideas are like the NeoNurture device. They are, inevitably, constrained by the parts and skills that surround them”

“The adjacent possible is a kind of shadow future, hovering on the edges of the present state of things, a map of all the ways in which the present can reinvent itself. Yet is it not an infinite space, or a totally open playing field. The number of potential first-order reactions is vast, but it is a finite number, and it excludes most of the forms that now populate the biosphere. What the adjacent possible tells us is that at any moment the world is capable of extraordinary change, but only certain changes can happen.

The strange and beautiful truth about the adjacent possible is that its boundaries grow as you explore those boundaries”

“The history of life and human culture, then, can be told as the story of a gradual but relentless probing of the adjacent possible, each new innovation opening up new paths to explore.”

“Good ideas are not conjured out of thin air; they are built out of a collection of existing parts, the composition of which expands (and, occasionally, contracts) over time”

Liquid Network:

“What kind of environment creates good ideas? The simplest way to answer it is this: innovative environments are better at helping their inhabitants explore the adjacent possible, because they expose a wide and diverse sample of spare parts—mechanical or conceptual—and they encourage novel ways of recombining those parts. Environments that block or limit those new combinations—by punishing experimentation, by obscuring certain branches of possibility, by making the current state so satisfying that no one bothers to explore the edges—will, on average, generate and circulate fewer innovations than environments that encourage exploration”

“It’s not that the network itself is smart; it’s that the individuals get smarter because they’re connected to the network.”

“A metropolis shares one key characteristic with the Web: both environments are dense, liquid networks where information easily flows along multiple unpredictable paths. Those interconnections nurture great ideas, because most great ideas come into the world half-baked, more hunch than revelation.”

Slow Hunch

“most great ideas first take shape in a partial, incomplete form. They have the seeds of something profound, but they lack a key element that can turn the hunch into something truly powerful. And more often than not, that missing element is somewhere else, living as another hunch in another person’s head. Liquid networks create an environment where those partial ideas can connect; they provide a kind of dating service for promising hunches. They make it easier to disseminate good ideas, of course, but they also do something more sublime: they help complete ideas”

“Sustaining the slow hunch is less a matter of perspiration than of cultivation. You give the hunch enough nourishment to keep it growing, and plant it in fertile soil, where its roots can make new connections. And then you give it time to bloom”

Exaptation

“big cities nurture subcultures much more effectively than suburbs or small towns.

Lifestyles or interests that deviate from the mainstream need critical mass to survive; they atrophy in smaller communities not because those communities are more repressive, but rather because the odds of finding like-minded people are much lower with a smaller pool of individuals. If one-tenth of one percent of the population are passionately interested in, say, beetle collecting or improv theater, there might only be a dozen such individuals in a midsized town. But in a big city there might be thousands”

“Cities, then, are environments that are ripe for exaptation, because they cultivate specialized skills and interests, and they create a liquid network where information can leak out of those subcultures, and influence their neighbors in surprising ways”

“the most creative individuals in Ruef’s survey consistently had broad social networks that extended outside their organization and involved people from diverse fields of expertise. Diverse, horizontal social networks,”

“A new technology developed in one idea-space can migrate over to another idea-space through these long-distance connections; in that new environment, the technology may turn out to have unanticipated properties, or may trigger a connection that leads to a new breakthrough. ”

Platforms

“The real benefit of stacked platforms lies in the knowledge you no longer need to have”

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