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118 of 130 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Full of good ideas but short on evidence, October 25, 2010
This review is from: Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation (Hardcover)
How do we cultivate innovation? Are there some ways to interact, to live, and to work that promote innovation? If so what are the fundamental drivers of innovation? In his latest book, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation (WGICF), Steven Johnson proposes a framework for answering these questions. WGICF is divided into seven sections with each section addressing what Mr. Johnson considers to be a fundamental factor that facilitates innovation.

Unfortunately, the core of his argument is one of analogy with nature or anecdote. From nature, he looks at structures with disproportionate diversity in nature and asks how these devices and behavior can be mapped to human culture and interaction. Although this kind of analogical writing is rhetorically compelling it doesn't provide any kind of true support for the accuracy of his statements. As for the use of anecdotes, they are useful for creating narrative from data and I am well aware they are nearly a requirement for publishing in this genre of non-fiction writing. I can even recognize they are rhetorically useful for creating emotional pull but no many how many stories you tell they simply do not provide evidence to support a thesis.

Now that I've made my caveats, I do think there are lots of good ideas in the book. The factors that Johnson proposes all seem believable and fit in with what I know of cognition. In particular, three topics he includes, at least based on other readings, deeply related to being a strong thinker - making errors and subsequently thinking about the error, building connections between concepts, and actively recalling knowledge. In other places these three features have been strongly tied to becoming an expert as well as to developing an agile mind. It therefore is a reasonable leap to conclude that developing an agile mind expert in some areas can indeed increase your ability to be innovative in some sphere of knowledge.

Despite the lack of evidence, WGICF was an enjoyable read. The style is pleasant, some of the stories are interesting, and all his concepts seem reasonably related to innovation and regardless of how fundamentally tied his ideas are to innovation it certainly won't hurt your innovative muscles to think about the role each o the dimensions listed in this book may play in helping you come up with your next big idea.
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Apr 8, 2011 11:54:06 AM PDT
A very balanced review, imho. Nice to see such in a three-star review. I especially liked the three ideas around being a strong thinker. Many thanks.

Paul
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