Where Good Ideas Come From

Books Comments

In the book Where Good Ideas Come From, Steven Johnson discusses the 7 common themes around innovation and creativity. Most of the examples in the book are centered around evolution and technology; the book is a fun read if these topics interest you!

Before going over the themes, here’s the TLDR version of the book, (my favority lines) -

Go for a run, 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 your own ideas; borrow, recycle, reinvent.

1. The Adjacent Possible - Imagine walking into a house that magically expands with each door you open. You walk into a room with 4 doors - each door leading to a new room that you’ve not yet visited. Everytime you open a door, although you just visit one other room, it opens the possibility for a whole new world. Youtube wouldn’t have been possible without the invention of the internet, HTML and Flash - each of the innovation made the next possible. I think this is also the reason why the Gravitational waves was a big news in the Physics community recently - it opened the door for a whole set of theories.

2. Liquid Networks - Innovation freely flows in liquid networks - a group where there is a right balance between order and chaos. An example that I can relate to in this category is the design of office workspace in Silicon Valley Companies - a move from closed offices to open liquid networks.

3. The Slow Hunch - Contrary to popular beliefs, there are no eureka moments in innovation. Most innovative ideas stem from connecting the hunches that have been figured out over a period of time. Tip from the author - write your ideas down.

4. Serendipity - Innovative ideas have mostly come at unexpected times/places - running trail or a bath tub (Archimedes) for example. Try to embrace serendipity - mindfulness helps :)

5. Error - I loved this quote from the book - ‘Being right keeps you in place; Being wrong forces you to explore!’. Being wrong doesn’t automatically open the ajacent possible, but it forces us to look for one. It challenges our existing assumption and makes us come with new strategies.

6. Exaptation - Exaptation is taking an idea or a concept from one field and applying it to another field. We usually tend to be more innovative or we tend to learn from people who are different than us. An example that comes to my mind is Jobs and Wozniak - they complimented each other well and created Apple. Another example in the world of Sports is the rivalry between Nadal and Federer - both have become a better player thanks to one another.

7. Platforms - I think the best example for this would be the App Store - Apple has created a platform on which innovation and creativity thrives.

Kaushik Rangadurai

Code. Learn. Explore

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