- Paperback: 344 pages
- Publisher: Riverhead Books; Reprint edition (October 4, 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1594485380
- ISBN-13: 978-1594485381
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 195 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #23,047 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation Reprint Edition
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"[A] rich, integrated and often sparkling book. Mr. Johnson, who knows a thing or two about the history of science, is a first-rate storyteller."--"The New York Times"
"A vision of innovation and ideas that is resolutely social, dynamic and material...Fluidly written, entertaining and smart without being arcane."--"Los Angeles Times"
"A magical mystery tour of the history and architecture of innovation."--"The Oregonian"
"A rapid-fire tour of 'spaces' large, small, mental, physical, and otherwise... Where Good Ideas Come From may be the ultimate distillation of his thinking on these issues... One admires the intellectual athleticism of Johnson's maneuvers here."--"Boston Globe"
About the Author
Steven Johnson is the bestselling author of Future Perfect, Where Good Ideas Come From, The Invention of Air, The Ghost Map, and Everything Bad is Good for You, and is the editor of The Innovator's Cookbook. He is the founder of a variety of influential websites and writes for Time, Wired, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal. He lives in Marin County, California, with his wife and three sons.
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He is not shy in contrasting this shared knowledge with the "silo-building" of the FBI that continues to fail our country by isolating key information from other agencies like the CIA. I remember reading after 9/11 that the failures of sharing vital information of national security was to be fixed by the creation of Homeland Security. Then the bombing at the Boston Marathon occurs and the investigation shows "silo-building" was again in play between the the CIA and the FBI,
At least the folks in the private sector understand the value of creative thinking.
The lessons drawn from the past can be applied today and tomorrow. They include: 1) the notion that ideas are not a single thing, but more like a swarm, 2) good ideas are not conjured up out of thin air, but are built out of a collection of existing parts, the composition of which expands over time, 3) the way we collect, store, and use information can make us more creative and innovative, 4) pay attention to our hunches and cultivate them 5) pay attention to memories and dreams, they represent the creative chaos of our minds, 6) making mistakes forces us to explore, and 7) borrow, recycle, reinvent, and build upon the ideas of others.
The book reads more like a mystery as the author leads the reader through his analysis of events from the past. I particularly like the balanced view he provides. About the time you are ready to accept his premise, he challenges the very view that he has espoused. In that way, it is an energizing experience to follow his flow of thought. By the end of the book, it is ironic (or is it?) that he has immersed you into the very patterns that he described.
With the topic of innovation being so heavily in vogue today, I recommend this book to gain a fresh perspective from the annals of its history.
This book, despite a title that sounds sort of warm and fuzzy, puts forth some interesting ideas about ideas, with quite a few meaty and entertaining anecdotes from wide ranging sources. Johnson relates the fascinating history of many interesting ideas such as the World Wide Web, GPS, YouTube, the pacemaker, the air conditioner, the triode, the theory of island formation, the printing press, the nature of neural connections, the method of transmission of cholera and many others.
Johnson's definition of ideas is not limited to human ideas. He includes good ideas by chemical and biological actors through evolution in his definition.
While this may seem unusual, it is completely consistent with Johnson's view of progress. He begins with the notion of the "adjacent possible", which is the set of possibilities enabled by taking one step beyond the current state of things. The notion is that most ideas are variants on things that already exist. It is accumulations of these variations that comprise progress. This is consistent with biologist Francois Jacob's notion of evolution as a tinkerer, rather than an engineer. Johnson notes that there are exceptions. But even in the case of of revolutionary theories, there are often preconditions which set the stage for Darwin and Wallace to both discover evolution, or Newton and Leibniz to both invent calculus.
Following from this premise, what is needed to foster ideas is an environment which continually brings together existing concepts by being both sufficiently dense and fluid to create fruitful new combinations. This is why a coral reef is a fertile ecosystem, urban environments are hotbeds of cultural progress and the Internet fosters advances of all kinds at an unprecedented rate.
A couple of interesting examples of bringing together ideas from different areas are the application of the wine press to printing books by Gutenberg, and the application of the punch card, invented for mechanical looms, to data processing.
Johnson discusses the commonplace book, a type of scrapbook used by John Locke, Francis Bacon, John Milton, Joseph Preistley, Erazmus Darwin and Charles Darwin to not only save interesting ideas from different sources, but index them so as to bring loosely connected entries together in the author's mind. Johnson has implemented his own modern day commonplace book using a software tool called DevonThink.
The latter portion of the book is a discussion of individual vs network and market driven vs "open source" in the generation of inventions. He sees a historical shift over time from the individual, market driven inventor to the the networked, open source model of invention. In this argument, his is somewhat at odds with the views of Matt Ridley, whose Rational Optimist argues persuasively that trade and the market have always been the driving force behind progress and the evolution of ideas.
His arguments are largely consistent with the thesis of Arthur's The Nature of Technology, also excellent. Arthur is somewhat more narrowly focused but also compelling in his case for incremental progress.
Johnson also a large appendix which contains a chronicle of key innovations from 1400-2000 with a paragraph on each.
The book is well written and insightful. Highly recommended.
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