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Where Good Ideas Come from: The Natural History of Innovation
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Where Good Ideas Come from: The Natural History of Innovation

4.03 of 5 stars 4.03  ·  rating details  ·  4,770 ratings  ·  442 reviews
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? Steven Johnson's answers are revelatory as he identifies the seven key patter ...more
ebook, 336 pages
Published October 1st 2010 by Riverhead Books
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Book operates around 5 major concepts:

1. The Adjacent Possible- contrary to popular belief innovation seldom changes the game completely by creating something incredibly advanced. More often, innovation unlocks a realm of the adjacent possible (That which can be achieved given the components that are already in existence). Ex: in the primordial soup of Earth pre-life, amino acids could be formed spontaneously through random collisions of atoms and functional groups. It would've been impossible f
I first became acquainted with Where Good Ideas Come From through Steven Johnson's TED talk, which I highly recommend if you've got a spare 17 minutes. In that talk -- and the book -- Johnson argues that most people are wrong when they imagine where new, innovative ideas come from. Many people have in their mind a lone scientist working in his lab, suddenly arriving at a "Eureka" moment, perhaps with a proverbial light bulb over their head. It's the apple falling on Isaac Newton, or Darwin devel ...more
Hmm, here we go again. Another 'popular / best selling' author with a 'great' book full of 'new' insights.

Johnson describes where good ideas come from (hence the title) by breaking it down into 7 patterns: the adjacent possible, liquid networks, the slow hunch, serendipity, error, exaptation, platforms. Each chapter describes a pattern by starting out with an anecdote of some inventor x in city y in year z. Then the pattern is defined / described and finally a bit elaborated upon with possibly m
I won this book from Goodreads. This is a fascinating book I would recommend to anyone even remotely interested in creativity and the history of the ideas that changed our world and the way we interact with it. He tackles the similarities in how ideas form, from Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection to the internet and twitter. Johnson's writing is tight and engaging--his ideas scream for contemplation and incorporation into one's intellectual life, yet I found it difficult to pull m ...more
This book can be summarized as - where good ideas die. I expected to book to serve as a guide as how inventions evolved into new inventions. Instead the book turned out to be a cross between something like a business book "how to foster new ideas" and a self-help one "how to be more inventive". The fact that it's written by a yuppie Silicon Valley entrepreneur makes it that much more difficult to stomach - the book raves about twitter as a platform and plugs some data-mining wares the author is ...more
I picked up this book after hearing Steven Johnson's interview on CBC's Spark. His arguments are compelling, and the book is chock full of invention origin stories - a very interesting read!
Courtney Johnston
I tend to avoid reading this kind of book. The Cluetrain Manifesto, The Tipping Point, Freakonomics, The Black Swan. They all hit the web, and they all pass me by in a largely undifferentiated wash of bold typography, sentence-length sub-titles and (too) easily summarised central points.

I'm not sure now why I ordered 'Where good ideas come from' at the library, but having done so, I dutifully picked it up and settled in to read it over the long weekend. The double line spacing immediately gave m
Stephen Brownell
The first few chapters especially are just incredible. Amazing concepts clearly presented. Johnson is an entertaining polymath with a highly compelling view of why things work the way they do.

His use of the word "ideas" in the title implies a more narrow focus than what is presented. By "ideas" he means something bigger than what we're associating it with, particularly human ideas. The idea of evolution, of the formation of life, of why cities are more productive than rural areas per capita. The
One of the better books on innovation, Steven Johnson makes connections between biological and technological patterns in how to create innovative environments. The illustrations are vivid and memorable, which help me remember the difference components of an innovative ecosystem. This is definitely the kind of book that I like to have on hand and lend to people.
1. Adjacent Possible - Good ideas are built from a collection of existing parts, the following six patterns assemble a wider variety of s
A very impressive book that examines the validity of the lone genius story throughout modern history. Johnson takes a diverse number of subjects and shows the parallels between them, drawing strong comparisons between human engineered systems and naturally evolved systems, particularly their generative power. Written in a conversational lecture mode, the topics covered in this book are understandable for anyone from high school on up.

The best part of the book is the conclusion. Although it was a
Francesca Carabini
Johnson sviluppa un percorso non lineare attraverso la storia delle grandi idee per analizzarle e capirne l’evoluzione contestualizzandole nel periodo storico e nell’ambiente sociale in cui si sono sviluppate. Un saggio approfondito e davvero interessante espresso in uno stile narrativo mai noioso.
Il testo vuole smentire la comune credenza secondo cui le buone idee nascano dall’intuizione lampante, da un'intelligenza che partorisce nuovi modelli di ragionamento soltanto grazie alle sue superiori
I think the author cuts through the crap regarding where inspiration comes from and produces some reasonable trends that explain where a lot of good ideas come from for instance:

The adjacent possible - Often many good but almost identical ideas come out at the same time. Innovation usually happens in an area not too different from where the status quo is, so a requisite innovation allows many new ideas to flower which several people may work on at once.

The author also gives a compelling, data-ba
Chad Warner
Apr 28, 2013 Chad Warner rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Chad by: .net Magazine
This book shows that “good ideas” (or key innovations) are generally products of prior discoveries, experimentation, and collaboration, not the Eureka moments of isolated geniuses. I found the historical anecdotes interesting and the lessons somewhat insightful, but overall the book wasn’t especially fascinating. I also felt that Johnson’s repeated comparisons of human ingenuity to evolutionary ecology were stretching the metaphor and didn’t contribute to his points. My favorite chapter was The ...more
An interesting and cheerful book, in which (esp. recent) history seems one great adventure, with clever ideas whizzing by as life just gets better and better. For us living in cities it's also pleasant to read a book about the benefits of living in cities. Cities, after a long period of being excoriated as the example of all that is bad about humanity, seem to be making a comeback in the minds of popular-book writers. This comeback may be fueled in part by the undeniable fact that people in vary ...more
Regardless of its origin, sometimes a good idea forms the entire basis of a non-fiction book. Often this idea is capable of being summed up in a single pithy sentence which serves as the title--maybe "The Tipping Point," or "The Long Tail,"--and after the concept is explained in the first few paragraphs, chapters full of anecdotes flesh out the work to book length, business publications praise it, and the author can command some serious speaking fees at conferences and corporate events.

Where Goo
Candice Carpenter
Within the first 20 pages, I was hooked with this book. For anyone with an entrepreneurial bent or fiendish desire to understand the workings of innovation and creativity, this is the book for you. Johnson elegantly and eloquently debunks the so-called myth of the lone genius innovating in a vacuum. Instead, he asserts that several underlying principles --of serendipity, error, liquid networks, and adjacent possibilities--help to propel new inventions. Some of the inspirational thoughts that cam ...more
Nicholas M
Fantastic! The single most important book for anyone looking for an accurate and comprehensive description of the creative process that they have heretofore been unable to verbalize. Johnson breaks creativity down to 7 basic underlying principles: the adjacent possible, liquid networks, slow hunch, serendipity, error, exaptation, and platforms. In doing so, he not only allows readers to become more conscious of the patterns that creativity follows, but he also provides inspiring examples of the ...more
Luis Fernando Franco
Un libro lleno de ejemplos sobre la innovación a lo largo de la historia, imprescindibles para tener una buena narrativa en presentaciones sobre innovación y charlas de negocios y sobremesa.

Además de sus seis capítulos, hay una agrupación de las ideas de 1600 a 2000 por criterios de comercio (ideas para el beneficio comercial) y si se trata de inventos personales o "colectivos", que demuestra de manera muy efectiva como, cuando las ideas se comparten y se les permite fluir libremente, generan aú
Todd Bullivant
I won this book from Goodreads, and asked our Manager of Innovation to comment on it:

"Unfamiliar with Johnson's previous books, I was ill-prepared for the density of his work. This current text probes the various methods in which innovations evolve, since contrary to popular belief they don't occur in a vacuum or eureka moments.

Based on his research, Johnson has broken innovation into seven segments of development; the adjacent possible, liquid networks, the slow hunch, serendipity, error, exap
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Nathan Forget
I first came across Steven Johnson five or six years ago, via Everything Bad is Good for You. At the time, I was considering switching careers—I wanted to make videogames—so Everything Bad resonated very personally with me. I also loved the straightforward writing and the cross-disciplinary ideas in the book, which led me to read several more of Johnson’s books: The Ghost Map and The Invention of Air. Both of those books lived up to my high expectations, so I have been eagerly awaiting the next ...more
Whether you're into politics, history, biographies, inventing, or otherwise being creative, this book is a must-read. Johnson's methods of research and writing are brilliantly approaching a comprehensive look into innovation, starting with the building blocks of life, and journeying through coral reefs, metropolitan communities, and cyberspace. Johnson aims to inspire us to live our lives in a way that will maximize our ability to find creative solutions, and ideally, effect change in the way ou ...more
Gayatri Sriram
A brilliant look at ideas and innovation that have changed the game. Johnson uses case studies that we all know and admire but relays an enchanting account of where they came from.
By comparing our workplace/city/ or any place that requires ideation to a coral reef, he establishes the ideal environment for churning out million dollar ideas; open liquid networks. The key steps that go into producing that one good idea have been looked at, I do sincerely now believe that the 'eureka moment' is a h
A very, very interesting read. And topical since our political and social environment is stressing innovation and entrepreneurship (not the same thing, however!) as the key to economic regain. My one critique is that the author focused very heavily on the development of scientific innovations. What about social ones? How does social innovation distinguish itself or relate to some of processes behind the technological advances Johnson describes? With this in mind, I feel like there is a missing c ...more
Creativity is synonymous of innovation, change, Kuhn's paradigm shift, unexpected problem solving, generation of the new. The engine of creation is proper of nature and life, and it has also accompanied human evolution throughout, as it still does. Many an author, inventors, scientists and artists - who all share the same fundamental drive and intellectual processes - have paused throughout time to try to understand the source of this endless river of excogitations and precipitations, some of wh ...more
Trevor Ralls
Johnson conceptually sparks interest in the ideal of productivity within networked idea environments, but it never moves past concept; in fact, by the time I hit his “Fourth Quadrant” chapter – and finally realized that I was actually reading socialist propaganda – I had discredited his approach.

I let Johnson pass on his naïve dig at Six Sigma as an “entire system of eliminating error” – the “error” he postulates is so important and the error that Six Sigma is designed to actually induce and und
Obaada Elhomsy
This was an ordinary and actually a boring book. I paused couple of times while reading it and checked the title to make sure that I am not reading a book about evolution ! Nothing is related to the core topic. The author is so vague with choosing his chapter's titles. The only thing that I got out of this book is that innovate ideas needs a good environment to enrich and grow. Innovate ideas are subjected to vanishment if they don't come in the appropriate time. For instance, there is no point ...more
Another great one from Steven Johnson. To me, the most interesting idea was exaptation--when a feature that's evolved for one use turns out to be good for an entirely different use. For instance, birds' feathers evolved to regulate air temperature (which is still what down feathers are for), but they turned out to be great for gliding and then for flying. So that answers the intelligent design backers' question, "What good is a fraction of a wing?" Exaptation happens in business, too.
Johnson uses his impressive knowledge of science history to paint an interesting picture of the nature of innovation. The anecdotes of discovery alone make this an engaging read, but Johnson's ability to connect them is what makes this book special.
This was a great look at how many of the innovations in the past few centuries have come about from both a historical and a sociological perspective. It also provides some food for thought on ways you might adopt certain strategies for creative thinking. My favorite was the "commonplace book," which I have now adopted to record favorite quotes or thoughts from my reading. Definitely worth a read if you're interested in innovative thinking.
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name.

Steven Johnson is the author of the bestsellers Where Good Ideas Come From, The Invention of Air, The Ghost Map, Everything Bad Is Good For You, and Mind Wide Open, as well as Emergence and Interface Culture. He is the founder of a variety of influential websites—most recently,—and writes for Time, Wi
More about Steven Johnson...
The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic--and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World Mind Wide Open: Your Brain and the Neuroscience of Everyday Life Everything Bad is Good for You Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software The Invention of Air

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“Chance favors the connected mind.” 45 likes
“The patterns are simple, but followed together, they make for a whole that is wiser than the sum of its parts. Go for a walk; cultivate hunches; write everything down, but keep your folders messy; embrace serendipity; make generative mistakes; take on multiple hobbies; frequent coffeehouses and other liquid networks; follow the links; let others build on your ideas; borrow, recycle; reinvent. Build a tangled bank.” 29 likes
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