I'm giving this book only 4 stars because this is not my favorite kind of book to read. It was assigned to me for a class, which always saps the fun o...moreI'm giving this book only 4 stars because this is not my favorite kind of book to read. It was assigned to me for a class, which always saps the fun out of reading. Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Below is the review I wrote for my class, it's better than anything I can write here on the fly.
Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From is a masterful account of the author’s findings as an innovation expert. There seems to be no specific audience for this book. He does not solely address businessmen or managers or any other demographic. He seems to be writing only so that others may better understand the elusive nature of innovation. He said himself in his Youtube introduction to his book that the nature of innovation is a problem that is of interest to anyone. We all have ideas and we are all touched by the innovations of others throughout our lives. Johnson’s structuring of the book is entirely appropriate for his subject matter. There is an introduction, a conclusion, and seven chapters in between. Each chapter is dedicated to one of the seven patterns that Johnson has determined are part of the process of innovation. They are fairly lengthy but filled with interesting tidbits. It is not necessary to read the chapters in order, though most people do I presume. One gets the impression that the book directly mirrors Johnson’s research process, embodying his theories in the most natural way. This is because Johnson does not attempt to pin down the causes and effects within the innovation process. He gives each pattern a whimsical, interesting name based on the examples and anecdotes that he believes supports the existence of such a pattern. He does not over-assert his position. He does not pretend to have a comprehensive understanding of innovation. In fact, he seems to have more questions as he goes along. More importantly, he draws ingenious parallels between environmental history and the process of innovation. This suggests that innovation is like nature, something that we may speak about scientifically but cannot quite understand in its entirety. Johnson does a wonderful job explaining his theories about innovation in terms of environmental history. The first pattern he describes is the adjacent possible. This is a seemingly self-explanatory assertion that good ideas arise from a useful combination of adjacent parts. Johnson draws the parallel between the formulation of good ideas and the beginning of life itself—the Big Bang. It is thought that the Big Bang was the result of a bunch of closely bunched, energized particles that eventually combined and exploded into the universe we live in today. It could have just as easily not happened, but it did. The parts were there, and so was the potential, hence the importance of the adjacent possible n the creative process. Johnson calls the next pattern liquid networks. He uses the three phases of matter: gas, liquids, and solids, to explain the environment most conducive to innovative ideas. He also compare these states to the natural history of civilization, as an added parallel. The gaseous state, represented by the earliest humans who lived in migrating packs, is not conducive to innovation because there is not enough consistent communication. Atoms, or people, are bouncing around, only seldom making meaningful contact with others. The solid state is on the other side of the spectrum. Johnson uses a cloister or a cult as an example of a solid network. There is too much control, too much contact, too much uniformity. Atoms, or people, are in such close proximity that the act of innovation is suffocated by it. Johnson states that liquid networks are the ideal environment for the creation of innovative ideas. He identifies the city as being the perfect liquid network. He believes that cities are unquestioningly the most creative places in the world because they provide just the right amount of personal proximity, the perfect amount of communication, and the perfect balance of order and structure. The slow hunch is the third pattern and it portrays the tendency of innovative ideas to result from multiple hunches building upon one another over time and space. Contrary to popular thought, great ideas rarely occur quickly, in one moment of eureka. Even if the idea does strike quickly, it has been created by a combination of slow hunches. One hunch is just a hunch, but if left alone, it will slowly grow and mutate, colliding with other hunches, and eventually resulting in an innovative idea. Johnson uses the example of Enlightenment-era coffee-houses and salons as environments suited to hunch-collision. Environments such as these allow people to slowly combine, borrow and re-invent their hunches.
Serendipity, the fourth pattern, is hard to classify and Johnson does not attempt to do so in any absolute way. Johnson is known for his effective exploitation of the Internet so I was not surprised to read, in this section, his answer to critics who claim that the Internet minimizes the occurrence of serendipitous ideas. Some claim that the efficiency of information storage and retrieval systems on the World Wide Web prevents the need for browsing, thus limiting serendipity. Though some tools, such as web filters, reduce the need for browsing, and thus limit serendipity, these information tools are not native to the Internet. Johnson argues that in their natural state, the Internet and the World Wide Web, support serendipity. Reflecting on my Internet searches, which often start with something like “how many calories are in peanuts” and end twenty minutes later on a page called “The Obstetric History of Anne Boleyn”, I must agree with him. The sheer volume of information supported by the World Wide Web in conjunction with the interconnectivity of active links can only make serendipity more likely in the long run. Johnson’s fifth pattern is error. He found that no good ideas were ever quite right at their first formulation. Great innovators not only happen to make many errors, they are obliged to, in order to reach that creative idea that they have been waiting for. Johnson uses the example of a study conducted by psychologist Charlan Nemeth. Nemeth was studying free association. She showed a group of subjects various images and asked them to respond with something the associated with the image. For example, if she showed them the color blue, one may answer, “jeans.” Initially, her subjects answers were straight-forward and unsurprising. She conducted the experiment again but hired actors to intentionally blurt out erroneous associations, for example, the color red inspiring someone to answer, “jeans.” She found that purposely introducing the actors’ erroneous answers into the session caused her subjects to be significantly more creative in their associative answers. Thus, in some way, errors inspire creativity. There is a catch, however. Making the same error over and over will never result in an innovative idea. Understanding your error and acting on the problem is essential to success in the end. This may explain why libraries have yet to take the leaps they need to make in order to maintain their relevancy in future years: there is no room for error. When taxpayer dollars or student tuition support an institution, its managers are unlikely to risk committing error after error, even if those errors will eventually lead to a great innovation. Johnson does not pretend to solve this practical problem for institutions or individuals but it would be helpful if he tried, because I believe this is what holds many people back. Frans Johansson addressed this issue of error and risk in his book, giving his innovation book an advantage to librarians who hope to put these ideas into practice. Exaptation is Johnson’s sixth identifiable pattern. Exaptation is essentially the repurposing of one item or idea for use in another arena. Johnson found that most innovative ideas were built off of much earlier innovations that had, by then, become commonplace. His best example is that of the screw press. For a millennium, the screw press was used to crush olives into olive oil and to crush grapes into wine. By the 15th century, it was an I inert, everyday item. That is, until it occurred to Johannes Gutenberg to use it to press inked letters onto paper. In a way half of Gutenberg’s work was done for him. The printing press was born from a primitive device that had already been used for over a thousand years, Gutenberg only needed to add another element to make it a revolutionary innovation. Johnson’s final, and perhaps more ambiguous pattern is that of platforms. A platform is essentially any object or place that serves as a stage for the process of creation. A coral reef is a platform for the creation of life. Enlightenment salons were a platform for the creation of theories. Twitter, and other social media are platforms for innovation, or at least they can be. This concept is simple enough but Johnson goes on to describe the benefit of stacked platforms. This was where he lost me. I have to admit my mind is more of a creative one than a scientific one, so I re-read his parts about stacked platforms and I still felt like I was missing something. My lack of confidence on the subject makes me hesitant to accuse Johnson of incoherence in this chapter but since I understood the rest of his book, this may have been the case. One principle I did glean from his discussion of stacked platforms is that they take the onus off of the thinker. Others are not required to spend time thinking about satellite communication or the parsing of geo-data as they send out a tweet even though the act of sending out a tweet requires these mechanisms. Someone else has already done that work for them, leaving them free to contemplate new ideas. Therefore, the creative growth in a stacked platform is exponential. Where Good Ideas Come From is an enjoyable read. Though it does not give specific instructions on how to innovate, it is not supposed to. Johnson accomplished what he set out to do when he wrote this book, which was to share his research about innovation with others. He lets readers do with it what they will.(less)
It was mandatory for me to read this book for a class and a mandatory read is never as good as a read by choice but I was sorely disappointed by this...moreIt was mandatory for me to read this book for a class and a mandatory read is never as good as a read by choice but I was sorely disappointed by this book. Included below is a review I wrote for the class about this book.
Frans Johansson’s The Medici Effect attempts to identify the nature of innovation and advise readers on how to innovate. Though I found many faults with this book, I will not argue that this book is not interesting and valuable, because it is both. Johansson attempts to construct an air-tight paradigm. He then tries to translate this paradigm into action, which is commendable. The problem with this book is a deeply-rooted conceptual problem that I did not fully recognize until I read my second book. In The Natural History of Innovation, I saw how artfully its author dealt with this the problem of righting about innovation and it helped me to articulate the issues that irked me throughout Johansson’s entire book. Frans Johansson has a BS in environmental science from Brown University and an MBA from Harvard Business School. He was raised in Sweden but currently lives in New York City. He is an author, motivational speaker and entrepreneur. He is the leader of The Medici Group, a consulting firm that operates according to the principles Johansson describes in the book. According to their website, “The Medici Group works with individuals and organizations around the world to generate an incredible number of ideas and turn the best ones into groundbreaking solutions.” This book is, not surprisingly, a marketing tool for Johansson and I believe this slant ruined the book for me. The study of innovation, much like the act of innovation itself, cannot be contained. It cannot be categorized, labeled and put neatly away into a small volume to be shelved for later use. Johansson makes the mistake of structuring his book too strictly. He gives names to concepts that are too fluid to name and structure to concepts that are too fluid to structure. Though his interesting anecdotes and some of his principles still ring true, this mistake devalues much of his personal analysis for me. I do not presume to know anything about an environmental science degree but I was surprised to learn of Johansson’s having earned it. Steven Johnson, for one, is an environmental science enthusiast and it translates into his theories about innovation. I cannot say the same about Frans Johansson. His theories on innovation are seemingly based on the assumption that innovation can be pinned down, cataloged, described and packaged for our consumption. It comes across as quite unnatural as you read the book and I immediately picked up on his attempt at branding his theory. The final part of his book consists of him trying to translate theory into action but he is only partially successful. He has turned innovation into a business and I’m not sure that we, as humans, are able to structure innovation that way. In chapter one, “The Intervention—Your Best Chance to Innovate,” Johansson summarizes his theory about innovation which goes a little something like this: The Medici Effect, for which his book is named, is defined as, “an explosion of extraordinary ideas” done by “bringing together different disciplines and cultures and searching for the places where they connect.” These connections between cultures and disciplines are what Johansson calls The Intersection. Intersectional Ideas are cross-disciplinary in nature. All other ideas, generated by the way we are used to thinking within one discipline, are called Directional Ideas. The next chapter completes part one in this book and it celebrates the rise in intersections promulgated by technological development in recent years. Here Johansson uses amusing examples, such as music artist Sharkira and computer animation company Pixar, to prove this point. This chapter also sets the tone for the remaining two parts of the book. It is replete with interesting, anecdotal information that Johansson uses to sustain his theories. This format is the most enjoyable part of the book and the reader learns much more from them than he or she learns from Johansson’s own ideas, I my opinion. The Intersection is truly the focus of not only part one, but the whole of Johansson’s book. The Medici Effect is barely mentioned because it is unnecessary. One may just called it “innovation.” I noticed this superficial structure right off the bat. Johansson is sure to give all of these things proper names which he capitalized all throughout the book, as if he has discovered a new species that he has the right to name. In reality, these are catch-phrases that help him market his ideas. I cannot fault him for that professionally, it is quite clever, but it is disappointing to a reader who is expecting an interpretation of innovation from an environmental scientist. I expected the book, and the theories it contains, the take on a much more natural, uncontrolled character. Part two is made up of chapters three through eight. I expected Johansson to use this part of the book to deepen his theory, to really let them take root in my mind. But to my surprise (but not to my dismay), his words in these chapters leaned more towards action than anything else. Chapter three explains the need for innovators to break down barriers between disciplines. Marcus Samuelsson, a fellow Swede, and an “Intersectional” chef, is the recurring example that Johansson uses in this chapter. Since my husband is a chef and I am admittedly a bit of a foodie, I loved this parallel. In the next chapter, Johansson goes on to advise his readers how to break down Associative Barriers. These are the artificial barriers we have placed in our brain that mirror the barriers between fields in reality. Though still interesting, some of the examples he uses in this chapter are a little weak. There was one exceptional example, however, that of the RSA cipher. Johansson is trying to describe how reversing our assumptions about things can lead us to innovative solutions to problems we may be having. Experts were trying to find a way to secure Internet transactions. It was assumed that the initiator of the transaction would lock his information using special encoding and only he could distribute the information needed to break the code. This way, only authorized users could have access to his secure information. The problem was finding a way to securely transmit the information that would break the code. Using their current model, they would need another lock and another key code, and this could go on forever, never truly securing the information. At this point, experts reversed their assumptions that the transaction initiator would hold the locked information and that the authorized users would gain the keys to it. Thus, RSA ciphers were born. The solution called for the initiator to hand out locked information (i.e. the users were in possession of it), and he would keep the key himself, never having to revel it to others, but using it whenever he wished to transmit secure information. The reversal was simple but it because the foundation for all future Internet transactions. The subsequent three chapters are disappointing in that they all pretty much deal with the same thing: ingenious combinations of ideas and how to get them. The anecdotes that Johansson presents in these chapters are the most interesting and they really bolster his theory about The Intersection. My only complaint is that there were three chapters of it when one longer one would suffice. To me, it was a continuation of his tendency to over-structure everything. The last chapter in part two is, to me, the closest that Johansson comes to turning his theories into action. It is called, “How to Capture the Explosion” and it describes how one can manage the influx of Intersectional Ideas that result from a true Intersection. This is interesting consider that this is what part three is supposed to do. Part three consists of five chapters that are, according to Johansson, about putting The Medici Effect into action, making it work for you. To me, part three read more like any old business advice column, drawing little from the theories he laid out in part one. Nonetheless, Johansson gave sound advice; he recommends that you move past failure, and don’t let it ruin your drive. He also advises readers to leave their professional networks behind. This is perhaps not one of the most common pieces of professional advice but I have heard it before. The problem with this part of Johansson’s theory is that he assumes that all networks are self-contained. Perhaps the lease effective networks are, but my idea of an effective network is one that spans fields, which is exactly what Johansson advocates. However, amidst his fairly ineffectual part three, Johansson hid a gem. I particularly enjoyed chapter fourteen, which was about “adopting a balanced view of risk.” Johansson cites risk experiments with interesting implications in order to establish our risk-taking behaviors. He believes they are holding us back from generating innovative ideas. He lists a few risk-related traps that humans tend to fall into and he attempts to persuade his reader to abandon these destructive attitudes about risk. This chapter may not have told us anything more that any expert on risk is able to tell us but it was sure interesting. It is also placed in the perfect spot in the book, at the end. By this time, the reader is thinking, “what kind of crazy nut has the time, the knowledge, the sheer courage, to do any of these things?” I think Johansson does a good job of answering that question with his second to last chapter. The Medici Effect was a quick and enjoyable read and I gleaned some insight into innovation that I did not have before. (less)
This is a quick and fun read, less serious than most histories but it's supposed to be like that. I read this book as part of a GR group and I must ad...moreThis is a quick and fun read, less serious than most histories but it's supposed to be like that. I read this book as part of a GR group and I must admit that my opinion is a little changed after I read some of their experiences. A few couldn't even bring themselves to finish the book because it just was not as captivating of the author's previous novel, Sex with the King.
As much as it pains me to admit, the sex lives of European queens just is NOT as fascinating as the sex lives of their husbands. For me, this is because queens' male lovers are not quite as interesting as the lovers of their husbands. Many of them came off as brainless braun or weirdos that I didn't understand.
The women of focus were, themselves, fascinating but their stories would have better suited another writer's style rather than Herman's quick, gossipy tone.
For me the book was still worth reading, especially since it was quick and interesting. But unfortunately it missed the mark for me and apparently for others.(less)
I am bound to give this novel at least three stars since I couldn't stop reading it and finished it in a couple days BUT that being said, I think I am...moreI am bound to give this novel at least three stars since I couldn't stop reading it and finished it in a couple days BUT that being said, I think I am just not cut out for series. I loved the first novel in this series so much, I was so sad when I finished it and so excited to read the second. I read the second novel and was slightly disappointed and I think I'm even more disappointed by this one. I can't even really recall any particular parts of it now that I'm done and it didn't hold my interest like the first one did. There was, of course, much back-tracking and recalling of information from the previous 2 novels, which annoys me to no end but I suppose it is necessary for a book that is a part of a series. It's a problem that all serial novelists probably run into.... how to hook readers who haven't read previous volumes without annoying the readers who HAVE read them.
The repetition is what I believe I can't stand in this novel. In my opinion, Franklin tries too hard to justify her characters' personalities and decisions within the story. For example, when the main character (a woman) does or says something that a woman in the 12th century would never say or do, she follows it with something like, "Of course, most women would never do such a thing but Vesuvia Adelia Rachel Ortese Aguilar was no ordinary woman and everybody knew it" or something like that. It's just a bit much for me. It breaks the spell of the story.
On a positive note, I feel sooo utterly comfortable reading the novels in this series. It sounds cliche but I feel like I know the characters, like they're good friends and I want to know what happens to them, no matter how boring the story. Perhaps that is what is so great about a series, you never have to say goodbye.
I recommend this book for hardcore Franklin fans and for those who have never read Franklin's novels before. Perhaps it's a better read for Mistress-of-the-Art-of-Death virgins. For fair-weather fans, it may not be worth it. (less)
I cannot praise this book enough. Bagwell took on quite a challenge. It is very difficult, in my estimation, to write a novel that covers an entire li...moreI cannot praise this book enough. Bagwell took on quite a challenge. It is very difficult, in my estimation, to write a novel that covers an entire lifetime, albeit a short one like Nell Gwynn's. It's strange because I didn't perceive that I was becoming attached to the characters within the story until something happened to them and there I was, blubbering hysterically as if I knew them myself. I highly recommend this novel to not only lovers of historical novels but to anyone and everyone who will read it. It is the perfect historical novel about one of the most lovable characters in history. (less)
I read this “novel” a couple years ago, before I succumbed to an incurable addiction to historical fiction. At the time I read mostly historical non-f...moreI read this “novel” a couple years ago, before I succumbed to an incurable addiction to historical fiction. At the time I read mostly historical non-fiction and the occasional philosophy. Needless to say I was a stickler for historical accuracy. Because of that, this book gave me immense pleasure. The author held himself to the highest standard for accuracy, never once embellishing but, instead, providing multiple narratives for what possibly could have happened and for what the real-life figures could have experienced. It was refreshing. I admire the author for that because there are very few novels out there like that.
BUT, the reason for the scarcity of completely historically accurate novels is a good one: it’s less enjoyable to read. I disagree with some other reviewers that the book wasn’t written well. I believe it was written quite well but that the author was limited by his ambition to remain completely accurate about this historical event. He invented no characters or storylines. He offered multiple explanations for unexplained events but was always very careful to point out that “we can never know.”
It is not the easiest of novels to get through for this reason but I highly recommend this for historians who, like me, put the utmost importance on the consideration of factual evidence when interpreting history. It is a refreshing way to read history and I hope that I can find more histories like it in the future. (less)
This is the first of Patterson's books that I've ever tried to read and I won't make that mistake again. It's just not for me. I really wanted to like...moreThis is the first of Patterson's books that I've ever tried to read and I won't make that mistake again. It's just not for me. I really wanted to like this book but a few things got in the way and I couldn't even get half-way through.
1. I generally loathe books that flash from the past to the present back and forth, back and forth throughout the whole book. After the first two flip flops, I skipped the chapters set in the present and only read those set in ancient Egypt.
2. The story is void of all historical detail and character development for that matter. As someone who's used to reading historical non-fiction and loads of historical fiction, the historical bent to this novel fell flat for me from the getgo. There was no historical, other-worldly excitement and each historical detail (of which there were very few) was painful to read because it screamed "look at me! i'm an historical detail! give me credit!"
3. It has this quality to it that makes the reader painfully aware the the author wrote it in a few weeks and that he wrote it for any and all audiences. It's a mass-market-type quality that the best mass-market books are able to avoid. Patterson didn't even try.
To lovers of Egyptology and historical fiction or historical thrillers... skip this one! It's a waste of time...
To people who are looking for a book to buy at the airport convenient store while their flight's delayed... take a nap instead.(less)