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Where Good Ideas Come from: The Natural History of Innovation Where Good Ideas Come from: The Natural History of Innovation by Steven Johnson
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“Chance favors the connected mind.”
Steven Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come from: The Natural History of Innovation
“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.”
Steven Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come from: The Natural History of Innovation
“Bill Gates (and his successor at Microsoft, Ray Ozzie) are famous for taking annual reading vacations. During the year they deliberately cultivate a stack of reading material—much of it unrelated to their day-to-day focus at Microsoft—and then they take off for a week or two and do a deep dive into the words they’ve stockpiled. By compressing their intake into a matter of days, they give new ideas additional opportunities to network among themselves, for the simple reason that it’s easier to remember something that you read yesterday than it is to remember something you read six months ago.”
Steven Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come from: The Natural History of Innovation
“The trick to having good ideas is not to sit around in glorious isolation and try to think big thoughts. The trick is to get more parts on the table.”
Steven Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come from: The Natural History of Innovation
“This is not the wisdom of the crowd, but the wisdom of someone in the crowd. It’s not that the network itself is smart; it’s that the individuals get smarter because they’re connected to the network.”
Steven Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come from: The Natural History of Innovation
“Being right keeps you in place. Being wrong forces you to explore.”
Steven Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come from: The Natural History of Innovation
“Old ideas can sometimes use new buildings. New ideas must use old buildings.”
Steven Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come from: The Natural History of Innovation
“Good ideas may not want to be free, but they do want to connect, fuse, recombine. They want to reinvent themselves by crossing conceptual borders. They want to complete each other as much as they want to compete”
Steven Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come from: The Natural History of Innovation
“Legendary innovators like Franklin, Snow, and Darwin all possess some common intellectual qualities—a certain quickness of mind, unbounded curiosity—but they also share one other defining attribute. They have a lot of hobbies.”
Steven Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come from: The Natural History of Innovation
“When you don't have to ask for permission innovation thrives.”
Steven Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come from: The Natural History of Innovation
“When it first emerged, Twitter was widely derided as a frivolous distraction that was mostly good for telling your friends what you had for breakfast. Now it is being used to organize and share news about the Iranian political protests, to provide customer support for large corporations, to share interesting news items, and a thousand other applications that did not occur to the founders when they dreamed up the service in 2006. This is not just a case of cultural exaptation: people finding a new use for a tool designed to do something else. In Twitter's case, the users have been redesigning the tool itself. The convention of replying to another user with the @ symbol was spontaneously invented by the Twitter user base. Early Twitter users ported over a convention from the IRC messaging platform and began grouping a topic or event by the "hash-tag" as in "#30Rock" or "inauguration." The ability to search a live stream of tweets - which is likely to prove crucial to Twitter's ultimate business model, thanks to its advertising potential - was developed by another start-up altogether. Thanks to these innovations, following a live feed of tweets about an event - political debates or Lost episodes - has become a central part of the Twitter experience. But for the first year of Twitter's existence, that mode of interaction would have been technically impossible using Twitter. It's like inventing a toaster oven and then looking around a year later and discovering that all your customers have, on their own, figured out a way to turn it into a microwave.”
Steven Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come from: The Natural History of Innovation
“the more disorganized your brain is, the smarter you are.”
Steven Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation
“Darwin was constantly rereading his notes, discovering new implications.”
Steven Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation
“when one looks at innovation in nature and in culture, environments that build walls around good ideas tend to be less innovative in the long run than more open-ended environments.”
Steven Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation
“So part of the secret of hunch cultivation is simple: write everything down.”
Steven Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation
“Babbage had most of this system sketched out by 1837, but the first true computer to use this programmable architecture didn’t appear for more than a hundred years.”
Steven Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come from: The Natural History of Innovation
“Keeping a slow hunch alive poses challenges on multiple scales. For starters, you have to preserve the hunch in your own memory,”
Steven Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation
“Silicon-based life may be impossible for one other reason: silicon bonds readily dissolve in water.”
Steven Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come from: The Natural History of Innovation
“Berners-Lee was supremely lucky in the work environment he had settled into, the Swiss particle physics lab CERN. It took him ten years to nurture his slow hunch about a hypertext information platform.”
Steven Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come from: The Natural History of Innovation
“His research led him to one overwhelming conclusion, published in a seminal paper in 1975: big cities nurture subcultures much more effectively than suburbs or small towns.”
Steven Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation
“The wetland created by the beaver, like the thriving platform created by the Twitter founders, invites variation because it is an open platform where resources are shared as much as they are protected.”
Steven Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation
“Her research suggests a paradoxical truth about innovation: good ideas are more likely to emerge in environments that contain a certain amount of noise and error.”
Steven Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation
“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.”
Steven Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation
“Jane Jacobs observed in The Death and Life of Great American Cities: “The larger a city, the greater the variety of its manufacturing, and also the greater both the number and the proportion of its small manufacturers.”
Steven Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation
“A good idea is a network. A specific constellation of neurons—thousands of them—fire in sync with each other for the first time in your brain, and an idea pops into your consciousness.”
Steven Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation
“The second analog-era mechanism that encourages serendipity involves the physical limitations of the print newspaper, which forces you to pass by a collection of artfully curated stories on a variety of topics before you open up the section that most closely matches your existing passions and knowledge.”
Steven Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come from: The Natural History of Innovation
“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.”
Steven Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation
“What Ruef discovered was a ringing endorsement of the coffeehouse model of social networking: the most creative individuals in Ruef’s survey consistently had broad social networks that extended outside their organization and involved people from diverse fields of expertise. Diverse, horizontal social networks, in Ruef’s analysis, were three times more innovative than uniform, vertical networks. In groups united by shared values and long-term familiarity, conformity and convention tended to dampen any potential creative sparks. The limited reach of the network meant that interesting concepts from the outside rarely entered the entrepreneur’s consciousness. But the entrepreneurs who built bridges outside their “islands,” as Ruef called them, were able to borrow or co-opt new ideas from these external environments and put them to use in a new context.”
Steven Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation
“De Forest was wrong about the utility of gas as a detector, but he kept probing at the edges of that error, until he hit upon something that was genuinely useful. Being right keeps you in place. Being wrong forces you to explore.”
Steven Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation
“We have a natural tendency to romanticize breakthrough innovations, imagining momentous ideas transcending their surroundings, a gifted mind somehow seeing over the detritus of old ideas and ossified tradition. But ideas are works of bricolage; they’re built out of that detritus.”
Steven Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation

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