WHERE GOOD IDEAS COME FROM

What an audacious title for a book on innovation!!

This book  by Steven Johnson is an atypical book under the category of Innovation/Business /Creativity. No review can substitute reading the book – so instead of a review I am sharing with you some of my best moments with the book .

This is one of those books where I found myself marking “WOW” many times across the margins. There were times I would close the book and set off into another world of thoughts guided by inquisitiveness that this book invoked in me. The joy of imagination is never attributed to the trigger. But here I want to share these triggers because experiences are personal.

The central premise of the book is best captured in the following sentences towards the end of the Introduction “We are often better served by connecting ideas than protecting them. Like the free market itself, the case for restricting the flow of innovation has long been buttressed by appeals to the “natural” order of things. But the truth is, 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. 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.”

Good Ideas range from the most abstract scientific paradigms to pure artistic forms while also encompassing simple daily improvements. There are common properties across all these forms of creative pursuits – as there are also differences. Understanding the way in which these ‘innovators’ conceive, collaborate and innovate brings out some patterns which when recognized can lead us to being more creative.

Kleiber’s law, the 10/10 rule (a decade to build and a decade to find adoption), how it has become 1/1 rule, ideas coming from spare parts, importance of adjacencies, the beauty of carbon and its connection abilities, the proactive design of liquid networks which are meant to allow free flow of ideas, importance of hunches and allowing their evolution by writing them down, the inseparable link between reading and writing, serendipitous discoveries as a result of inter disciplinary exchanges, importance of exploring errors, the power of exaptation are just some of the points where I indulged myself to reading ecstasy. The story of the forest wetlands with beaver, woodpecker and songbirds was a WOW to understand the power of platforms.

To see the patterns in generation of ideas was amazing. What stunned me as I read was that we are moving towards a world of collaboration, free idea movement, interconnected and faster world. The power of connectedness and collaboration as explained in the book is simply superb!

The one thing that this book does NOT DO and for which I liked it that much more is that  there is no ‘To Do list’ or ‘exercises’ claiming to make you more creative. The book makes an earnest appeal to constantly tinker with what’s available so as to unlock possible doors. It leaves the control to the reader after making a strong case for being open, seeking collaboration and searching connections.

Apart from the feeling of constant WOW, I also found the following piece in the book to be a key takeaway:

“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, re-invent. Build a tangled bank”

I enjoyed the journey with the book and I will strongly recommend this for anyone who is even remotely interested in creativity / innovation

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