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Books in Brief: Where Good Ideas Come From

   /   Jan 3rd, 2011Business, Education, Environment, News
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Here at Dowser, we talk a lot about how to change the world. But sometimes the beleaguered amongst us (meaning me) survey the logistics of social change and marvel at the ingenuity of problem solvers, wondering: “No, but really — how did you get that idea?”

Luckily, Steven Johnson’s latest, equally blunt book — Where Good Ideas Come From — offers several theories about the kinds of environments that could give birth to the next generation of social innovations. Johnson traces the evolution of ideas through an array of stories — from Freud to Google — and identifies seven patterns behind idea generation. He argues that the best ideas evolve with time and draw from a network of contributors in open-source markets “where ideas flow in unregulated channels.”

The most successful environments mimic natural ecosystems—coral reefs and rain forests, where inhabitants share their abundant resources for mutual benefit. Butterfly fish feed on coral; tech startups clamor for office space in Twitter’s building. Johnson refers to this environment as The Fourth Quadrant, an element he explores in the last chapter, with a nice visual aid that elevates his argument from anecdote to data. And while much of the book does focus on the umbrella environment necessary for innovation, it also includes details that can be integrated in your daily life, such as:

  • Take long walks
  • Keep an idea file—a long list of disorganized notes and sparks of inspiration. Two years from now, you may have the structure to nurture a hunch that, for whatever reason, doesn’t quite fit today
  • Read outside your discipline
  • Live in a city

Johnson’s light writing style makes the book easy to digest. It makes you think about how to seek and share ideas, how to run a company, and how you could change the world. Anyone with the slightest nugget of an idea should pick it up.

3 Responses

  1. Joshua C W says:

    I love the RSA.

  2. Samantha Ory says:

    I thought this was an extremely engaging video, which helps visual learners to better understand a rather abstract concept of how ideas become formulated. Johnson not only tactfully promoted his book “Where Good Ideas Come From,” but went to the very core of what makes a social venture a success or a failure; the idea. Being at a famous design school (Parsons) as students we are encouraged to make a social impact since we notoriously think “outside of the box.” All of us want to make a positive impact in some way, but sometimes it is a challenge to come up with an idea that we may have a hunch about, but are not sure how to connect to promote our entrepreneurial idea. Johnson’s book visually conceptualizes the process of how these ideas can become connected to form a solid strategy to work with.
    Most entrepreneurial books talk about the aftermath of the creative process and jump right into the “meat” of the story by talking about how the business started small and grew into a huge conglomerate, which is very inspiring, but not extremely helpful for someone who wants to actually put the originating methods into practice. In fact, I have never come across a book that dives into the thought process of idea generation, mainly because it is not only hard to explain, but most people have trouble thinking of a good idea let alone picking apart how one comes to be. I absolutely plan on reading this book, I think its going to be eye opening, extremely helpful, and if nothing else, a very fun read.

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