I just finished reading Steven Johnson’s 2010 book, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation. If you’re looking for a distillation of the latest thinking about the nature of innovation, this is a great book for you. Johnson is an elegant writer, and is able to present sometimes complex ideas in an illuminating manner. Where Good Ideas Come From summarizes some of the latest findings from research and from a deep look at the historical record. From this history, Johnson teases out a host of different patterns for innovation. Chapters cover topics such as the benefits of “useful mistakes,” and the power of exaptation, i.e., where ideas and technologies designed for one purpose can be adapted for other uses.
If there’s a bottom line to Where Good Ideas Come From, it’s this: Innovations tend to occur in “space(s) where hunches and serendipitous conclusions and exaptations and recycling can thrive.”(p. 244). In other words, innovations occur in environments where new ideas and new approaches can compete, connect, remix, recycle, and reinvent. We see these fertile networks at work in coral reefs, in large cities, and in the World Wide Web. They can exist anywhere as long the environment is open and conducive networking and connection.