• Laura E.P. Sheehan

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

I was lucky enough to happen across this book on a bookshelf in our community library. Always in search of the next great idea, this book called to me. When I opened the cover, I was thrilled to read the publishers note: "We all know a great idea when we see one....But where do they come from?"


Author Steven Johnson is the author of eleven books, including Farsighted, Wonderland, and The Ghost Map. He is the host of the PBS series 'How We Got To Now' and the podcast 'American Innovations.' In this circa 250-page book,* he successfully assimilates history, technology, neurobiology, internet culture and urban studies to take the reader through centuries of physical inventions and revolutionary thoughts.


Among many other things, Mr. Jonson talks: Darwin, Steve Jobs, YouTube, the DVD player, incubators, calculators, terrorism, gravity, and even double-entry accounting ("which Goethe called one of the 'finest inventions of the human mind'" (p.56)). Hahah! Truly, this book covers a full range of fascinating topics...and he does so in a way that easily engages the most non-scientific of minds (like mine).


He brilliantly categorizes the origins of ideas into seven main theories: the Adjacent Possible, Liquid Networks, the Slow Hunch, Serendipity, Error, Exaptation, and Platforms. Each so-named section of the book details both how the theory works and how we can move our own ideas forward utilizing the principles underlying the theory.


With these practical tools at our disposal, there is no end to the ways we might start generating ideas!


The things I love most about this book? In Mr. Johnson's own words:"If there is a single maxim that runs through this book's arguments, it is that we are often better served by connecting ideas than we are by protecting them."


Whether it is the nexus of thoughts, events, inventions or people, together we can move forward faster.


* Not including the dozens of pages of annotations, research notes & citations, along with recommended reading.

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