Where Good Ideas Come from
Bill recently read Steven Johnson’s book, "Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation", and found it useful as a way to think about the kinds of environments that foster creative collaboration and innovation.
I picked up Steven Johnson’s book, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, with a little bit of skepticism. Lots of books have been written about innovation – what it is, the most innovative companies, how you measure it. The subject can seem a little faddish, but Johnson’s book is quite good at giving examples of how you create environments that can encourage good ideas.
Especially for people in business or education, it’s a worthwhile book. It talks about the institutional structures that facilitate good ideas – how you get lots of people thinking about cutting edge problems, how you put people together in a space where different skill sets and influences can come together, how you make the right kinds of materials available but don’t force a conclusion.
Some books about innovation revolve around the idea that a small number of amazingly smart individuals have had Eureka moments, leading to extraordinary breakthroughs that changed the course of civilization.
But Johnson challenges this view, which I liked: “We have a natural tendency to romanticize breakthrough innovations, imagining momentous ideas transcending their surroundings…But ideas are works of bricolage…We take the ideas we’ve inherited or that we’ve stumbled across, and we jigger them together into some new shape.”
The decision to start Microsoft, for example, wasn’t based on a momentous flash of insight. It was based on incremental developments in a nascent personal computing industry, the fact that Paul Allen and I had access to mainframe computers at the high school we attended, and our hunch about what people could do with computers in the future.
At the foundation,