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

Where Good Ideas Come From
2 mins read

Key take-away: 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.


Where Good Ideas Come from? What do we need to know and do to have more of them?
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.

There is even a timeline of key innovations.

Based on his research, Johnson has broken innovation into seven segments of development; the adjacent possible, liquid networks, the slow hunch, serendipity, error, exaptation, and platforms. In each method, Johnson provided detailed theory and supporting examples about how ideas formed through the process. 


1. Adjacent Possible – Good ideas are built from a collection of existing parts, the following six patterns assemble a wider variety of spare parts
2. Platforms – Creating a generative environment where different kinds of thought can productively collide and recombine
3. Liquid Networks – To create a good idea, the environment needs to be densely populated with ideas but capable of adopting new configurations
4. The Slow Hunch – Good ideas are a series of small hunches that come together over a long time
5. Serendipity – Hunches require environments where surprising new connections can be forged over time
6. Error – Innovations often come from unexpected results because error creates a path out of your comfortable assumptions
7. Exaptation – Taking on one evolution of an idea for another purpose: recombining, often through diverse, horizontal social networks where you act as a bridge between tight clusters

While occasionally laborious for those unfamiliar with his scientific references, his insight into the environment of innovations builds in a similar fashion to his thoughts on liquid networks and the slow hunch. What he provides is his own primordial soup on how to best cultivate innovation. His emphasis is not a formula to garner success, but a suggestion of the pieces needed to provide the most fertile ground. 

The quadrant of innovations.

While his prose does not lend itself to sound bites, this book provides services focus and insight into a topic that challenges the business world and science alike and is a key to those who wish to champion any innovation initiative.

Borrow it from a public library, look for it in a charity shop, go to this bookshop down your high street and enjoy the stroll in the sunshine, or maybe find it online and you know how it goes.

Great read I recommend.