Review: Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson

Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation

Throughout history, the world has seen incredible change thanks to great ideas. These insights often seem to come out of nowhere. Not simply minor updates to current inventions or ways of thinking, but truly transformative ideas that change the course of human history. But where do they come from? That’s exactly the question Steven Johnson explores in Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation.

Where Good Ideas Come From

Ideas don’t generally come out of thin air. Even the most groundbreaking ones are inspired from somewhere. How people come to the realization of these good ideas is more than simply a Eureka-moment.

Johnson explores a number of ways great ideas may have come about throughout history and the requirements for each of these processes to surface great new ideas.

One of the most common sources of good ideas explored here is the concept of the ‘adjacent possible‘. This theory, created by Stuart Kauffman in 2002, illustrates how thoughts and ideas grow from one iteration and realization to the next, by exploring the neighboring possibility. Johnson spends much of the book relating the creation of good ideas to the adjacent possible and the ability to unlock new possibilities in this way.

Though Where Good Ideas Come From does explore a number of good concepts, it is lacking a bit in evidence. The author outlines potential ways in which we might come across new ideas and has a couple examples of such transformative ideas, but fails to be able to prove most of these ideas were actually founded through the use of any of the presented mechanisms.

In addition to doing little to prove the real-world application of the principals explored, the amount of exploration on each varies greatly. While much time is spent discussing Darwin and the events that brought about some of his discoveries, other principals see much less time covering the theory.

Here’s An Idea

At times it seems the author continues on with little sense of direction and doesn’t really provide real evidence that the mechanisms for creating new ideas have actually been part of the creation of the ideas that have changed our world. But despite some slow parts and lack of evidence, it’s still an interesting exploration of how we may come to find the ideas that change industries, history, and life for all of us.

If you’re interested more in the question of where these ideas come from, rather than how to apply these concepts yourself, Where Good Ideas Come From is an interesting look at how game changers come to be. Grab yourself a copy of Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation by Steven John on Amazon.

Author: Ben Brausen

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