Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation – by Steven Johnson

How strongly I recommend it: 7/10
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Steven Johnson uses the history of science to analyze and explain innovation, giving us an understanding of the critical paths that forms ideas. Great read.


We are often better served by connecting ideas than we are by protecting them. When one looks at innovation in nature and in culture, environments that build walls around good ideas tend to be less innovative in the long run than more open-ended environments. Good ideas may not want to be free, but they do want to connect, fuse, recombine. They want to reinvent themselves by crossing conceptual borders. They want to complete each other as much as they want to compete.
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. Some of those parts are conceptual: ways of solving problems, or new definitions of what constitutes a problem in the first place. Some of them are, literally, mechanical parts.
The trick to having good ideas is not to, sit around in glorious isolation and try to think big thoughts. The trick is to get more parts on the table.
A good idea is a network. A specific constellation of neurons—thousands of them—fire in sync with each other for the first time in your brain, and an idea pops into your consciousness. A new idea is a network of cells exploring the adjacent possible of connections that they can make in your mind.
To make your mind more innovative, you have to place it inside environments that share that same network signature: networks of ideas or people that mimic the neural networks of a mind exploring the boundaries of the adjacent possible.
when we look back to the original innovation engine on earth, we find two essential properties. First, a capacity to make new connections with as many other elements as possible. And, second, a “randomizing” environment that encourages collisions be
tween all the elements in the system.
Protecting ideas from copycatsand competitors also protects them from other ideas that might improve them, might transform them from hints and hunches to true innovations.
Being wrong forces you to explore.
Good ideas are more likely to emerge in environments that contain a certain amount of noise and error.
Emergent platforms derive much of their creativity from the inventive and economical reuse of existing resources, and, as any urbanite will tell you, the most expensive resource in a big city is real estate.
Old ideas can sometimes use new buildings. New ideas must use old buildings.
In a funny way,the real benefit of stacked platforms lies in the knowledge you no longer need to have. Youdon’t need to know how to send signals to satellites or parse geo-data to send that tweet circulating through the Web’s ecosystem.
Ideas rise in crowds. They rise in liquid networks where connection is valued more than protection. So if we want to build environments that generate good ideas, we need to keep that in mind, and not fall back on the easy assumptions that competitive markets are the only reliable source of good ideas.