Innovation Needs Playmates
book, Where Good Ideas Come From,
Steven Johnson throws
cold water on the notion
arrive through a "eureka moment" by a solitary inventor. Rather,
great ideas start from "the slow hunch" by one individual that is
nurtured by several others.
"In Mr. Johnson’s telling, innovation is most likely to occur when ideas
from different people, and even different fields, are rapidly banging against
one another; every so often the ideas will spawn some radical new combination," said
Megan McArdle in a review for The Wall Street Journal. "The most
innovative institutions will create settings where ideas are free to move,
and connect, in unexpected ways."
That’s why "chance encounters" more
logically rather than surprisingly resulted in breakthroughs throughout history.
It’s also why cities foster more innovation rather than small towns, and supports
why industries that cluster around areas succeed because they foster such brainstorming.
around idea generation is the importance of just writing down the kernel of
an idea, albeit far from formed. The book also urges sticking a break in a
routine, such as taking a walk. But invariably Mr. Johnson gets back to the
importance of collaboration, including the ways ideas from one field can be
transformed in another and the power of information platforms to connect disparate
data and research.
Mr. Johnson wrote, "A good idea is a network. An idea
is not a single thing. It is more like a swarm."
The final part of the book turns somewhat
controversial when Mr. Johnson argues that the corporate model of proprietary
research — bogged down by copyrights, patents, a culture of secrecy and top-down
bureaucracies — is not as effective as more "liquid networks" where
hunches and serendipitous situations can be fully explored. He passionately
advocates for "open environments
where ideas flow in unregulated channels."
In his review for The Oregonian, Glenn
Altschuler summed it up, "At
the end of the day, as they say, his advice to would-be innovators is pretty
sound: Write things down, learn from mistakes, ‘follow the links; let others
build on your ideas; borrow, recycle, reinvent.’"
But the Journal’s Ms.
McArdle argued that while market forces may be less effective at delivering "radical
new ideas" than openness and
inspiration, they excel at converting those ideas into useful tools. She also
said the book discounts the steady progress found from smaller ideas.
"Reducing the history of innovation to a few ‘big ideas’ misses
the full power of human ingenuity," she wrote.
Discussion Questions: What kinds of environments give rise to good ideas?
Should corporations be more open to exploring ideas with other corporations,
- Serendipitous Connections – The Wall Street Journal
- Nonfiction review: ‘Where Good Ideas Come From’ by Steven Johnson – The
- Book Offers Ways to Develop World-Shaking Ideas – The Associated
- ‘Where Good Ideas Come From’: Steven Johnson asks why great ideas arise
where they do – The Seattle Times