Sunday, October 17, 2010

Where Good Ideas Come From The Natural History of Innovation by Steven Johnson

Where Good Ideas Come From The Natural History of Innovation by Steven Johnson

This book is a history of how good ideas and inventions come into being.  It is very scientific and technically oriented focusing on Charles Darwin, James D. Watson, Willis Haviland Carrier, Enrico Fermi, and other people with breakthrough ideas.  At the same time, it uses historical examples to extrapolate ways that individuals will likely become more innovative.

Some of the ideas behind the book are not intuitive.  For example, Tim Berner's Lee development of the world wide web occurred over a long time period without any single eureka moment.  Many ideas come from slow continuous development.

Steven Johnson describes many ways to increase individual innovation; keep a diary, browse libraries, bookstores, and the internet, have workspaces which mix order and disorder, keep a wide variety of hobbies, and go to places where ideas flow freely like cafes and innovative spaces. 

The author uses lots of stories and examples to illustrate his points.  He even has a timeline of innovation in the appendix of this book.  The Notes and Further Reading section cites numerous authors like Clay Shirky, Charles Darwin, Jaron Lanier, Malcolm Gladwell, Edward O. Wilson, and Lawrence Lessig.  This book will have an especially strong appeal to people interested in computers and new media.

The book is not just about individual ways that people can innovate.  It also describes some causes of innovation like serendipity, exaptation, and error. In addition it goes beyond the individual to include examples of environmental factors.  For example, cities condense the amount of people freeing people to try new things, and platforms like Twitter increase the ability to communicate new ideas.

I found the book to be very well organized.  This made it easy to think about what I was reading.  In addition to the appendix which had the Chronology of Key Innovations 1400 to 2000 and the Notes and Further Reading, there was a bibliography and index.  This is a very well put together book.  Amanda Dewey is listed as the designer for the book.  If you look on the internet, she has designed quite a few bestsellers.

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