Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation

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Review: Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation

A fascinating deep dive on innovation from the New York Times bestselling author of How We Got To Now and Farsighted The printing press, the pencil, the flush toilet, the battery--these are all great ideas. But where do they come from? What kind of environment breeds them? What sparks the flash of brilliance? How do we generate the breakthrough technologies that push forward our lives, our society, our culture? I highly recommend this for anyone who might be trying to tap into their own creativity, but especially if you're wanting to feel more creative at work.

I did skim over a lot of the more technical scientific examples of innovation, and have a lot of questions about the big list at the end, but the chapters about innovative environments gave me plenty to investigate, especially as my library begins a project that could lead to major renovation. Basically, he's saying that the more ideas you are exposed to, the better your ideas will be. That ideas need time to incubate, so write them all down he has a beautiful section on the commonplace book and revisit them later. That diverse networks and diverse hobbies make for some truly amazing discoveries such as Gutenberg basing his famous invention on a wine press -- I love that.

WHERE GOOD IDEAS COME FROM by Steven Johnson

Books from wine! One of the first things this book has me reconsidering is my news feeds. I need to mix this up, bring in sources from other areas. So if you have some non-library, non-techie suggestions, let me know! Steven Johnson's "Where Good Ideas Come From" is a rich addition to the literature on creativity, innovation, and collaboration, and a tremendous resource for anyone needing a reminder that little is created in a vacuum. While much of the book is rooted in examples of scientific exploration, discovery, and innovation, its scope encompasses everything from Darwin's work with coral reefs to literary historian Franco Moretti's writings on the evolution of the novel.

He draws on the work of Jane Jacobs and Richard Florida in describing the levels of creativity stimulated by the density of populations in cities; Ray Oldenburg's work on the importance of coffee houses and the other "great good places" in our creative and social lives; and the efforts of many who have documented the benefits of collaborative work--but he is far from derivative. When he ultimately leads us to an understanding of and appreciation for how creativity and innovation build upon what came before us, he doesn't need to explicitly point out to us that his book, in drawing upon the work of many before him, leads him to his own thought-provoking world view.

We know and understand this implicitly because he has, through his work, provided a perfect example of what he is proposing. This book is really more like a 3.


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  7. I also should admit that part of the reason for that half-star demotion might be that I listened to this as an audiobook. The issue was not the narrator or anything you would typically expect, but rather a simple matter of making it difficult I was listening to it driving to and from work to stop and ponder or jot down notes. Those caveats aside, I really did enjoy this book quite a bit.

    Jonhson has a way of clarifying ideas and concepts that I find to be helpful and stimulating. In this case, the subject matter, how new inventions, discoveries, etc. Though I don't consider myself to be a revolutionary thinker who is regularly coming up with some flash of insight, I do take the idea of consistently trying to set myself up for new ideas, very seriously. Johnson brings together a lot of pieces of information on this subject that I had heard, in one form or another, before, but puts it into a very digestible format.

    I'm particularly grateful that I also own a physical copy of this book -- I'm looking forward to reading through his notes and reviewing the structure and organization of the material. I suspect that process alone will add to what I have gained from this book.

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      Add to Registry. Johnson addresses an urgent and universal question: What sparks the flash of brilliance? How does groundbreaking innovation happen? He provides the complete, exciting, and encouraging story of how the ideas are born that push careers, lives, society, and culture forward. Customer Review Snapshot Average rating: 4. Most helpful positive review. Steven Johnson explores interesting territory with this book, in which he draws parallels to biological evolution to help explain the emergence of innovative ideas. Considering innovation through this lens helps to explain suppositions and suggest tactics for leaders to use in seeking innovation from teams.

      Johnson's work suggests that technological innovation can be considered as another manifestation of the "force of life". However, in doing so, he doesn't take the position that they are required. With this approach to intellectual property rights, he strikes an interesting middle ground between ideological camps. He also does not strike either an "pro-technology" or a "doomsday" tone, which is refreshing to see in an otherwise frequently polarized topic.